Review: An Equal Stillness
My review of Francesca Kay’s An Equal Stillness, which appears in today’s Irish Times.
I’ve just flicked open the new issue of the Stinging Fly (and am dizzy on the delicious smell of fresh print) to find essays on first drafts by Colette Bryce, Dermot Healy, Philip Ó Ceallaigh and Peter Sirr among others, as well as new fiction by the likes of James Kelman, new poems by Paula Meehan and Sinéad Morrissey and a piece entitled First Passions by Joseph O’Connor. Sixteen extra pages brings it to 128 pages of words that I can’t wait to pore over, and all for less than the price of a paperback.
Speaking of Kelman, a man greatly loved by the head of the English department of Trinity College during my time there, Thomas Docherty, he (Kelman, not Docherty) is giving a public reading at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology today at 7 p.m. I remember Docherty extolling Kelman’s mastery of voice and the vernacular, illustrated in what appeared to be Docherty’s favourite quotation from the Booker Prize winning author, and one he urged us to visualise – you’ve really got to picture this, apparently – as he bellowed gleefully through the hallowed halls of Trinity College: “You couldn’t score in a barrel of fannies!”
No real surprises on Sunday night, apart from Mickey Rourke not getting his gong. Expecting a snooze (and boy did I need one) I will say that Hugh Jackman’s dancing was a hoot, I loved all the musical razzmatazz, and the new format was a strangely moving tribute to the undeniable longevity of the Academy Awards. The sight of Hollywood legends like Eva Marie Saint, Sophia Loren (if that was, in fact, Sophia Loren) and the divine Christopher Walken made for some good milking of the old cinema magic, though it did result in a bit too much onstage hugging for the winners. Tina Fey and Steve Martin’s Scientology dig was delightful, Ben Stiller’s impression of Joaquin Phoenix skittily spot on. So yeah, the winners were predictable for the most part, and the dresses largely dreary, but so help me, the Oscars won me back, though I should point out I watched most of it on YouTube. Speaking of which, here’s Sean Penn’s worthy, but, you know, worthy, acceptance speech.
Imagine my gobsmackery when the name of this blog was called out by MC Rick O’Shea at the Irish Blog Awards in Cork last night! I was stunned, thrilled and shockingly grateful to the judges, to the Blogfather Damien Mulley and to all those who comment here and make this blog work. I was already having the time of my life, putting faces to comments and blogs, and milling around Cork International Airport Hotel with a bunch of fascinating folk who write and take photographs and draw and post and link and do astounding, blogificent things, but to win an award on top of all that was giddyingly great. For a full list of the winners, click here. Am too wrecked to write more now, so am off for a nap with my award in my arms.
I’m blogging this from a Cork hotel bedroom where I’m about to slip into my Valentino gown and prepare my look of unenvious rapture (as perfected by La Jolie at the Baftas recently – ennui is so close to delight, you see) when one of my fellow nominees – Scamp, Asylum, The Devious Theatre Company or Chris Judge – goes waltzing up the stage to collect the coveted gong. May the best blogs win and the celebrations begin!
It’s 1975 and Alistair Little is a cocky teenager living in a Lurgan housing estate, with pictures of Bruce Lee and George Best on his wall, an oversupply of testosterone and a burning desire to be a man about town. He joins the UVF, and asks to be allowed kill a Catholic. The man he murders is Joe Griffin’s brother, and 11-year-old Joe is witness to the killing. Thirty three years later, a repentant Little and revenge-hungry Griffin are invited to meet by a television company eager to film the encounter. Both men need this meeting for different reasons, this five minutes of heaven where confronting the past will either put their demons to rest or unleash new ones. It is a masterful, modern and complex look at how post-conflict truth-searching plays over a human heart. Though there are occasional slips into caricature (the television producers are particularly inane), and moments of over-scripted dialogue, the two central performances, with Liam Neeson as the Protestant Little and James Nesbitt as the Catholic Griffin in a canny juxtaposition of their real-life origins, are powerful and nuanced. Nesbitt in particular shines in a role that allows him scope to reveal all of the complexity of being human and male in a world of us against them. (more…)
The Abbey Theatre has announced a new series of free talks “designed to challenge and respond to the work on stage,” entitled Bearing Words. The first event, ‘The Eye of a Dream’: Dr Melissa Sihra considers the work of Marina Carr, takes place next Thursday (26th) from 6 p.m. to 6.45. This is followed by a talk by the Abbey’s New Playwrights Programme Manager Christine Madden on the Power of the Written Word on March 5th, and a panel discussion with the Abbey’s Literary Director Aideen Howard, theatre director Selina Cartmell, writer and director of the Irish Playography Project Caroline Williams and Chair in Drama at Queens University, Belfast Anna McMullan on the question ‘Where are Ireland’s women playwrights?’ While admission is free – FREE! – booking is essential so skip on over to www.abbeytheatre.ie and snap up a seat. As long as it’s not mine.
Kudos to David Maybury , Sinéad Keogh and all at the Irish Blog Awards for a fascinating evening of all things blog to bookish and back again. The panel of bloggers, writers, publishers – generally, people that know a thing or two about books – engaged with a lively audience of all of the above (plus some infiltrating hacks), with plenty of debate over the merits of writing blogs whether as writing practice or to get noticed, as well as some interesting debate about the future of books in an electronic age. Speaking of which, has anyone switched their reading medium yet from old-school page turners to new-fangled e-bookery? Do such formats spell The End for our beloved books?
Margaret Atwood might have started a cavalcade of trouble for the inaugural Emirates Airline (is there anything they don’t sponsor?) International Festival of Literature, which is due to take place in Dubai from February 26th to March 1st. Atwood has pulled out of a planned appearance at the festival after one novelist was blacklisted for potentially offending “cultural sensitivities”.
Geraldine Bedell was due to launch her rom-com The Gulf Between Us (geddit?), at the festival, but the organisers got cold feet, due to the novel’s setting, its themes - which explore Islam and the Iraq war – and one particular character, a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend. The book has been blacklisted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Other authors are now said to be considering their options, in the wake of Atwood’s withdrawal. (more…)
Last night I attended the Film Festival screening of Il Divo, an astoundingly inventive and beautifully crafted (if confusing: too many Italian politicians, bankers, businessmen, dates, subtitles and political machination for this viewer, unschooled in Italian political history, to follow) film with a wonderful soundtrack, astonishing lensing, and a stand-out performance by Toni Servillo as Giulio Andreotti. Afterwards, director and writer Paolo Sorrentini received an award and participated in a short question-and-answer session with the audience. Q&As usually make me cringe, given the kind of soapboxing by audience members it appears to induce, but this one was worth it for a few sharp questions and a wonderful revelation at the end from a gentleman who described himself only as “someone who worked at the Department of the Taoiseach for thirty years.” The gentleman in question said he met Andreotti on several occasions, and pointed to the accuracy of Il Divo‘s portrayal of this powerful political figure who thrice served as Italy’s Prime Minister. He followed with a recollection of Andreotti’s impact on our own Charles J. Haughey, remarking on the latter’s clear fascination with the former. Having just watched a film about Andreotti’s Mafia links and brutal treatment of his enemies in politics and the media, it was particularly entertaining to hear the name of our former Taoiseach introduced. The gentleman in question got a larger round of applause than Sorrentino.
Those planning to attend the book blog event at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Wednesday, with Sarah Rees Brennan , Ivan O’Brien, Fiona McPhillips, Twenty Major and Mags Walsh discussing all thing books and bloggy and drinking wine, take note that though the event is going ahead at 7 p.m., the location has been changed to the Teachers’ Club just around the corner at Number 36, Parnell Street. That’s it so. As you were.
Congrats to IFTA winners Michael Fassbender and to Lance Daly, both of whom deserved an award from somebody, at least, for two remarkable cinematic achievements. Also to bloggers Graham Linehan and Annie Rhiannon (a.k.a. L’il Pinch) for an award (in the case of the former) and being an integral aspect of the show that swept the awards (in the case of the latter, whose contributions to success of The Tudors went sorely overlooked when it came to the speeches – don’t worry missy, Ms Winsalot even forgot the Queen of Hollywood Angelina Jolie during her speech. Happens to the best of ‘em, and all). So how do we all feel now that another award ceremony is over and done with. Does it make any difference? Do we agree with the distribution of accolades? Do we care?
The Irish Times Poetry Now shortlist has been announced, with some great voices competing for the award. Though not as familiar as I’d like to be with Ciaran Carson’s For All We Know, Derek Mahon’s Life On Earth or Pearse Hutchinson’s At Least For A While, I can vouch for Colette Bryce’s sensitive and subtle Self Portrait In The Dark – “he taps against the glass / all Marcel Marceau / in the wall that is there but not there, / a circumstance I know” – and Leontia Flynn’s smart and conscious Drives – “I cannot find Rome. There is too much Rome in Rome.” Judges Kit Fryatt, Sean O’Brien and Joseph Woods have their work cut out for them and some great reading ahead. May the best poet win.
Here’s a little something from the great man’s great-great-granddaughter, Ruth Padel, who has published a new collection about her famous relative called Darwin: A Life in Poems. For Arminta Wallace’s piece on Padel’s new work, click here. In the meantime, here’s a poem from the collection that was reprinted in the New Scientist, which points up the distance between Darwin and his wife Emma because of the latter’s fears that her husbands view of creation would lead to his eternal damnation. (more…)
Kevin Power’s debut Bad Day at Blackrock is being made into a film, which frankly only adds to a pile of books (currently topped by Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road) that must be perused before I’ll allow myself the luxury of the big-screen version of events. But am I deluded in believing that in the divine order, book should come before film, at least when it comes to experiencing a story? I’m not one to be repeating the “are better” mantra in general, though am stumped now in my attempt to come up with an example of a film of a book that really outshone its literary predecessor. The Merchant Ivory Room With A View was at least as good as E.M. Forster original, while One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was fabulous on page and scrren, though I’d be hard put to pick one over tother. Are we talking apples and oranges here? Is there even a point to comparing two very different ways to tell a story? I would extol the film versions of The Godfather or Dangerous Liaisons, yet both are predated by books I never read. So I need help: what films are better than the books that inspired them?
No surprises last night at the largely predictable BAFTA awards, which managed to make even Terry Gilliam and all his Monty Python output seem boring. Things perked up when it looked like Sharon Stoned might forget to finish her sentences, but no such luck. Nobody tripped, gushed, cried (except a possible sniffle from Goldie Hawn as she presented Best Supporting Actor, but then she’s always teetering on the teary-eyed) or made a fool of themselves, with good-time veteran Mickey Rourke’s expletives delivered so tamely that the bleeping seemed superfluous. Even the dresses were dull. Onanistic twaddle for the most part, which leads one to wonder why we have all become so mesmerised with this one professional realm that we are so glued to the screens when they hand out their sycophantic accolades. Bah. If that’s entertainment, I’m tuning in to the Annual Builders and Plumbers Awards – at least there’d be bottom on show. In the meantime, I’m taking recommendations for the Jameson Film Festival – what should I be booking?
The boys are back with a new album to be released on February 20th, with that deliciously Talking Headsish “colour of it all” runway single song bringing a bit of the upbeat to some airwaves near you. Just so you can say you knew them when, here’s a bit of back catalogue featuring a death-faking fish and some spikey hair.
Tipperary actor Pat Shortt won Best Actor in the Evening Standard Film Awards this week for his role as Josie in Lenny Abrahamson’s powerful film Garage. Though he had to share the gong with Michael Sheen for his Frost in Frost/Nixon, Shortt’s win for a heartbreaking performance – I mean it, this will make your chest hurt – as a lonely, small town petrol pump attendant, was very much deserved. It was also a joy to see Abrahamson up there against Stephen Daldry and Danny Boyle in a nominations shortlist that is selected by a jury of film critics, though Daldry got the nod in the end for The Reader. Those who haven’t seen Garage yet, this is a timely reminder to catch one of the finest films to come out of Ireland in years by a director who might well be the best thing to come out of Irish cinema in . . . well, ever. There, I’ve said it. Any better contenders?
There was something particularly special about last night’s performance of The Death of Harry Leon to a dozen or so die-hard luvvies who braved the dire weather forecasts to witness something new in Irish theatre. Against an expertly understated stage design by Liam Doona, a strong cast played out the story of Harry Leon, a Dublin poet for whom a self-identification as Irish comes easier than absorbing his Jewish heritage. Conall Quinn rewrites Irish history in this beautifully nuanced work, with Portobello becoming a Jewish ghetto as the Blueshirts take over and friendly neutrality is abandoned for fascism. This is gripping, well-executed theatre that explores themes of belonging, memory and heritage without heavy-handedness, in a way that feels timely and relevant. We walked out into a snowy landscape and trudged home through the slush with whirring heads and a sense of excitement about the arts in Ireland where small venues with small audiences can still produce big, important work. For Peter Crawley’s review of the same play, click here. If you haven’t been, go see it. If you have, well, what did you think?
It snowed today in Dublin, and given that this is such a rare, and heartflippingly thrilling occurence to see a white and flurring blizzard through the big panes of Tara street, I want to mark it with something beautiful about snow and more than snow. Though snow has caught the imagination of many literary giants (Orhan Pamuk, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson spring to mind – any others?), this is still my favourite, by Louis MacNeice. (more…)
Reading: An Equal Stillness, by Francesca Kay
Listening to: Fight Like Apes, like everyone else. Angry dancing stuff.
Watched: Rachel Getting Married. If you’ve ever had a sister/addiction/to endure an endless wedding, this one’s for you.