Pursued by a Bear »

  • A Preparation for Death

    July 2, 2010 @ 1:29 pm | by Fiona McCann

    It’s been over a month since I read Greg Baxter’s A Preparation for Death and I’ve spent the ensuing weeks not quite knowing what to say about it, in part because I know Baxter personally, and in part because I needed to let my thoughts about it settle in the immediate aftermath of turning the last page. At last night’s launch of the book in Waterstones, I was reminded of the power of Baxter’s work and the things that had stayed with me: the precision of his prose, the energy, the urgency, the egocentricity of his writing. Because Baxter can write – beautifully, eloquently, with both care and fervour. He is both in love with and despising of himself, and as such the Greg Baxter he writes into this book and in a sense out of himself, is an aggravating man. Irresponsible, insatiable, he finds his job demeaning but rather than leave it, takes the money and takes the piss. The women in his life are seen through a highly sexualised lens – few become the kind of whole and breathing characters afforded their male counterparts. Yet an irritation with the protagonist/author and his personal focus does not take away from the lucidity of Baxter’s writing, the achievement of this work and the undeniable pleasure to be gleaned from a book that disturbs your thoughts and thus makes you tackle them anew. In fact, if only for his portrait of a vibrant, pulsing, contemporary Dublin – a city that has not been captured thus, ragged and raucous, in any other book to date – A Preparation for Death is worth reading. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

  • The literary novel is undead

    February 16, 2010 @ 5:08 pm | by Fiona McCann

    “I don’t think the literary novel is dead. I think it’s undead. In order to save it from annihilation we have made it a genre: we have taken our understanding of the word “novel” as a kind of writing with no rules and replaced it with a formula of exactly predictable progressions, illuminations and tragedies. If you’re having trouble figuring out what some character in your new novel is going to do, give me a call. I can tell you. But, more importantly, who cares?”

    So said Greg Baxter in his review of Reality Hunger by David Shields, which appeared in our books’ pages last weekend. So far, no Letters to the Editor expressing outrage, umbrage or even an opinion. So let’s try you lot then. Do you agree that the novel is undead, predictable and formulaic ? And, more importantly, as Baxter adds, do you care?  Bueller? Anyone?

  • Dublin Book Festival

    @ 4:56 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Right. Quick heads up so. The Dublin Book Festival is on its way from March 6th to 8th, and for starters, it’s free. Added to which there are a number of panels planned worth a diary note at once. Nell McCafferty and Thomas Kilroy are worth watching In Conversation, while Claire Keegan, Hugo Hamilton and Eibhear Walsh among others will be making appearances varied over the course of the three days. Caroline Walsh, Carlo Gebler, Greg Baxter and Siobhan Parkinson will make for a lively panel on the subject of “Critiquing the Critics” while Margaret MacCurtain, Susan McKay, Ivana Bacik and Catriona Crowe hold forth on the subject of the Legacies of Feminism. For all the rest, click here.

  • The Irish Times Book Club

    February 1, 2010 @ 10:46 am | by Fiona McCann

    In case anyone missed it in Saturday’s paper, my colleague Rosita Boland has joined us in blogland with The Book Club blog. This month, the book under discussion is Brooklyn. Have a look, and have your say.

  • Let the Great World Spin

    December 10, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Colum McCann writes poetically, and the structure of this novel that stretches between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre is clever and fitting. But sometimes a novel that everybody else extolls just doesn’t vibrate on your personal frequency, and so it was for me with Let The Great World Spin. There are moments of beautiful language, arcs of feeling pinned onto the pages in careful prose. But something about these characters remained distant, almost unreal to me, and there is a self-consciousness to the prose style that takes from its emotional resonance. There is music here, and beauty, and an intelligent craftsman at work, but Let The Great World Spin finally fails to complete the human connection. It’s a novel that never reaches the heights that make for its central metaphor, and to which it so clealry aspires. But that’s just what I thought: the New York Times was enamoured and the National Book Award judges clearly impressed. Anyone else remain unconvinced?

  • How did he do it?

    December 1, 2009 @ 12:03 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Come up with the Ten Commandments, I mean. Because limiting myself to the ten most influential books of the noughties was a fierce challenge altogether, the results of which will be made known in tomorrow’s Irish Times. Many thanks to all the suggestions and contributions: I have been strict in adhering to the caveat that the final inclusions must have been published within the decade, which meant we had to chuck out Dreams of my Father and Harry Potter, both of which made their first appearances in the nineties. But while you’ve all been ruminating on books, I’ve been catching up on other arts, notably Strandline at the Project, the new Abbie Spallen play. Set in a small coastal village in Northern Ireland, this is a play about secrets and lies, perhaps a fitting theme for our times given all that’s been revealed about the church of late. A cracking cast works hard to play with shifting audience sympathies against a fittingly cold and stylish set by Sabine Dargent. Looms loom (yes, I  have waited some years to be able to say that), and dialogue crackles, while Fiona Bell plays the best stage drunk I’ve seen in quite some time. Here’s what Peter Crawley had to say about it, and if you’re convinced, you’ve got till Saturday to catch it. If Strandline doesn’t float your boat (SWIDT?), then this week’s highly recommended movie must is Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. Beautifully shot, achingly suspenseful, fittingly slow-paced and with incredible performances elicited from a cast of fabulous faces (yes yes, actors, I know, but the close-ups are expressive and hauntingly memorable), this film leaves the viewer with a myriad of questions, and a discomfort reflective of life’s eternal failure to tie things up satisfactorily. Go. See. It.

  • Feeling listless? We can help

    November 24, 2009 @ 2:35 pm | by Fiona McCann

    So it’s the listing time of year. One must simply get over and get on with it, particularly because not only are we at year’s end this time, but decade’s end to boot. So here’s the thing: we’re making a list of the ten most influential books of the last decade. If you care whether Dan Brown beats Dave Eggers for a place in the limelight, or have an opinion about Dawkins versus Klein versus Diamond versus Fukuyama, we’d love to hear from you. Does Sebastian Barry merit inclusion for The Secret Scripture? And what of Seamus Heaney’s District Circle, or has Dennis O’Dricoll’s Stepping Stones had more of an impact on you than the poet’s most recent collection? Would Brokeback Mountain have had such an influence without the Ang Lee film version? Does anyone really care about Ian McEwan (because I’m struggling to understand his inclusion on so many of these lists myself)? Did Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs say more about women in the 21st century than all of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club choices put together?  Can any of you even remember back as far as the beginning of the decade any more? What were the books that most influenced you over the past ten years, and why? Tell us, quicksmart, and influence our list of influentials.

  • Posthumous publishing

    November 23, 2009 @ 6:56 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Course, we all think we deserve another Nabakov. And he’s been dead for over thirty years now, so should what he thinks – or thought – even matter at this point? These are the questions which arose around the publication of Vladimir Nabakov’s The Original of Laura, a book  the Russian-born author stipulated should be destroyed after his death. Instead, it was consigned to a vault by his wife Vera, only to be removed therefrom by the couple’s son Dimitri, who finally, towards the end of his own life, went against his father’s dying wishes and published it. John Banville argues that if Nabakov had really wanted it destroyed, he would have ensured its destruction and that, regardless, an author on his deathbed is not the best judge of what should be done with his work. Tom Stoppard disagrees, making the point that we owe it to the author to respect his dying wishes. Now that it’s out there, reviewers are divided about the result, a book of the work in progress comprised of images of the series of index cards on which he had made the notes for the book he never finished. But is it fair to judge him on something he himself believed should never see the light of day? Does any of this matter given that the man himself has long shuffled off this mortal coil? And if you feel the author has been badly treated, would it stop you from buying the book? Your thoughts, please.

  • Amazon’s Top 100

    November 3, 2009 @ 6:21 pm | by Fiona McCann

    No surprise to see Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol topping the list of Amazon.co.uk’s 100 Bestselling New Releases for 2009, but what’s this? Grow Your Own Drugs at number three? Not the recreational kind, mind, but still, it’s a turn-up for the books (shocking pun intended) to find an ethnobotanist on the list, just pipping Antony Beevor no less for the bronze. According to the site, they’re the bestselling new releases based on shipments up to October 28th, and they’re quite an eclectic bunch, all told. It’s a fascinating snap shot of – well, of what exactly? Can anything be deduced from these examples (and remember, Irish Amazon shoppers get redirected to the .co.uk site too) about the state of reading in Britain and Ireland, particularly given the heartening presence of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Beever’s D-Day: The Battle for Normandy in the top ten? Or are we to deduce that the demographic that buys online is of a Beever-buying disposition? Stieg Larsson features twice in the top ten, with this baking book coming in at number ten. Which reminds me: Can we stop calling them cupcakes over here? They’re BUNS for crying out loud! And what I want to know is: has anybody out there read this James Wong book? What’s so great about it, or better-stated, why are so many people buying it? As for the Irish contribution to the top 100, we’ve got Coleen Nolan’s autobiography and the Guinness Book of World Records. Who says we aren’t a literary nation, then?

  • Six hundred and fifty pages of Bookerness

    October 7, 2009 @ 9:08 am | by Fiona McCann

    Curses. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is after winning the Booker prize, and it’s some 650 pages long. And now I have to read it. Here’s what Eileen Battersby says. Any of you lot already ploughed through and consider it worth my (monumental) effort?

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