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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 31, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

    Vann makes the headlines

    Laurence Mackin

    There was an excellent article in Sunday’s Observer newspaper that is well worth clicking the link to read. It focuses on the youngest Britons to climb Everest, Rob Gauntlett and James Hooper. Gauntlett died while climbing in the Alps, at the age of 21, and Hooper found himself in debt and struggling to deal with the death of his climbing partner and close friend. So far, so quality Sunday newspaper story. And the author of the article? None other than writer David Vann.

    Vann knows the two men personally, and his spare, eloquent writing style, his fluency in drawing fierce landscapes on the page, and his own tragic experience make the piece such compelling reading. He understands the need to live and exist in the wild, and the rewards it can bring. He also has first-hand knowledge of what it means to lose those dearest to you, and he brings his considerable writing prowess to bear on this deeply emotive story.

    Vann has been on these shores of late, and did a lap of several Irish arts festivals in 2010. His book, Legend of a Suicide, created something of a gentle literary storm. It is a work of fiction, but in the most heartbreaking sense – the suicide at the heart of the book is a reworking of Vann’s father’s suicide. Indeed, Vann is a master at blurring the lies between his own life and his books, something he freely admits in this recent interview in the Sunday Business Post (in the article he also relates how five people have taken their own lives in his family, and how his stepmother “lost her parents to a murder suicide”.)

    Vann’s latest book might be slightly less epic in content but it is no less effective. Whereas Legend … was a collection of stories, his new work, Caribou Island, is a novel. It follows a small set of characters in an Alaskan town, with authentic descriptions of the wilderness and intelligently executed depictions of the characters’ motives and desires. It is this blend of domesticity and red raw nature that make Caribou Island such a fine work. It is eloquent, accessible and profound and Vann’s is a confident voice that is well worth listening to, whether it is between the covers of his books or on the pages of a Sunday newspaper.


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