Yeats speaks to all the ages

That WB Yeats was the greatest English-language poet of the 20th century is seldom disputed, except perhaps by advocates of TS Eliot. That he remains the greatest of Irish poets is undeniably true, as Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney and others have dutifully acknowledged. Even Patrick Kavanagh, in so many ways the antithesis of Yeats, gave […]

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Paul Durcan: A poet intent on mischief

‘Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin’ was the mis­chievous title Paul Durcan gave to a poem that’s currently on the shortlist for RTÉ’s A Poem for Ireland promotion and that, in a contest to be decided by public voting, could well end up as the nation’s favourite – Durcan really is that popular, even (or, […]

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In the tradition of Turgenev and Chekhov

The author of Suite Francaise delivers another masterpiece from the grave. Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, which was written as she hid from the Nazis in rural France but wasn’t published until 2003, brought her posthumous international acclaim, and since then I’ve reviewed four other novels by this remarkable writer who had been a bestseller in […]

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Amongst women: Biographical echoes from Colm Tóibín

It is the late 1960s in Wexford  . . .  and Nora Webster is trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. In his short memoir A Guest at the Feast, published in 2011 as a Penguin ebook, Colm Tóibín writes of his mother as someone who had been “hungry all her […]

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John Boyne is back with the priest’s story

The Carmelite priests who run Terenure College may well feel aggrieved at the depiction of their illustrious school by John Boyne, author of global bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and also one of their former pupils. Writing recently in an Irish newspaper about trying to get singer Sinead O’Connor’s attention at last year’s […]

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An old fashioned Irish American saga

When is a long novel too long? The question arises with Matthew Thomas’s much-heralded debut, We Are Not Ourselves, which covers 60 years in the life of Irish-American woman Eileen Tumulty and runs to 620 pages. That may strike some readers as very long indeed, though the book is so absorbing that it never becomes […]

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Crusader Paul’s no dope but maybe he should lighten up

Near the outset of Rough Rider (RTE1), Kevin Kimmage recalled of sports journalist brother Paul that, when they were growing up, “he had a very vibrant sense of humour. I don’t think he has a very vibrant sense of humour anymore”. Certainly on the evidence of this 90-minute documentary, you wouldn’t get much of a […]

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Novelist Edna O’Brien….Making it through the night

First published in 1972, this remarkable novella is told by a woman as she lies in bed recalling her life and her lovers, and it pays obvious homage to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the 1922 masterpiece by James Joyce, one of Edna O’Brien’s literary heroes. Yet while it honours that extended reverie of half a […]

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An intriguing tale of a lost but fascinating soul

An American expat living and working in London gets a phone call from the police in Berlin telling him that his sister, whom he hasn’t seen for years, has died there. He contacts his US-based father and after three weeks of bureaucratic delays in the German capital they find themselves in a fog-bound Munich airport […]

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A portrait of Joyce’s city 100 years on

What if ‘Dubliners’ was written today, 100 years after the publication of the famous collection of short stories? John Boland on a new book in which writers like Donal Ryan, Eimear McBride and Pat McCabe recast the stories in 2014 ‘It is not my fault,” James Joyce told his London publisher, Grant Richards, “that the […]

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Touching vignettes of a vanished age

With the death of John McGahern in March 2006 and of Seamus Heaney last August, Ireland lost its two most loved writers, McGahern in particular having secured a unique niche in the affections of his devoted readers. Loveability is not, of course, a prerequisite for a writer’s success or standing, and up to recent decades […]

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Donal Ryan ‘The THing About December’

Francie Brady, the alarming narrator of Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy, isn’t quite the full shilling. The same is true of Charlie, who recounts the events in Ciaran Collins’s recent debut, The Gamal. And now, in Donal Ryan’s second novel, we’re in the not-too-safe narrative hands of Johnsey, who’s regarded by most of his neighbours […]

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‘The Twelfth Department’ by William Ryan

THIS is the third William Ryan novel to feature Moscow detective Alexei Korolev during Stalin’s reign of terror, and it’s as richly satisfying as its two predecessors. The author is an Irishman in his 40s who was educated at Trinity College before becoming a corporate lawyer in London, though his career took a literary turn […]

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The grand old man of Irish poetry who had a boyish openness to life

Among many evenings spent in the company of Seamus Heaney, whether occasions of convivial chat over a pint or at events of more earnest literary import, one in particular stands out. It was in the late 1990s, the venue was an elegant upstairs room in Westland Row that belonged to the Royal Irish Academy of […]

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25 years on, can Jimmy Rabbitte still rock?

Twenty-five years after we first encountered him, Jimmy Rabbitte is back, though not the Jimmy Rabbitte who was everyone’s favourite da from Roddy Doyle’s trilogy of Barrytown novels and who was cherishably played by Colm Meaney in movies that endeared the character to audiences around the world. That was Jimmy Sr, who was central to […]

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Irish writer’s brilliant debut earns coveted spot on cover of TLS

Eimear McBride’s ferociously intense and stylistically challenging account of a young girl’s coming-of-age in rural Ireland is an astonishing literary debut, yet its appearance under a small imprint is clear indication that conventional publishing runs scared of new writers who aren’t easily packageable. What chance today for Joyce, Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Henry Green or […]

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The young outsider who grew up to be a literary master . . .

William Trevor, who was 85 yesterday, has always been sure about his identity. Although the Cork-born author has lived with his wife, Jane, in rural Devon for almost 50 years, he’s never regarded himself as English but rather as “Irish in every vein”. He’s sure about his literary strengths, too. He has 17 highly praised […]

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Going, going, Gone Girl

Critic John Boland on why the thriller novel by Irish American writer Gillian Flynn has turned into the summer’s big read What makes a bestseller? When Gillian Flynn’s third novel, Gone Girl, was first published just over a year ago, it was critically acclaimed, not least by this reviewer, who described it in these pages […]

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There was only One Con Houlihan

Irish Independent, February 23, 2013 In one of his hundreds of sports columns from the 1970s, Con Houlihan paid tribute to the great Welsh scrumhalf, Gareth Edwards, who at that time was at the pinnacle both of his game and of his fame. A fitting subject, then, for a writer who had a lifelong and particular passion for […]

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James Plunkett

Sunday Miscellany, April 2013 Married to my mother’s sister, he was Jimmie Kelly to all who knew him and Uncle Jimmie to us, but to the world outside he was James Plunkett – Plunkett being his middle name – the noted broadcaster and writer who achieved global fame as the author of Strumpet City. However, it’s Uncle […]

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