Pursued by a Bear »

  • Update

    April 9, 2009 @ 9:51 am | by Fiona McCann

    Reading: Molly Fox’s Birthday, by Deirdre Madden, having just finished The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (a pacey rags to riches story with a twist, giving frightening insight into India. It’s an accomplished debut, and though it lacks the weight and wonder that marks a book out for generations to come, it’s still worth a read), and Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson (beautifully gentle, crafted story that rings of loss and strange connections).

     Watching: Lots. I’ve been on a lot of flights. Saw Benjamin Button – meh. Though Mr Gateau’s rewinding clock was touching and effective, and there were some gigglish struck-by-lightening scenes, the rest was more of the same overwrought, emotive gum that’s getting churned out at a great rate of late, achieving its tear-jerking aim only through the boredom that resulted from watching three-odd hours of it. Also Revolutionary Road – not bad, though hard to separate from the book, which, unsurprisingly was better. And snippets of Australia, which is not the kind of film to watch on a six-inch screen.

    Attended: The opening night of All My Sons at the Gate. It’s a timely production of a play with an alarming contemporary resonance, that deals, as Arthur Miller often does, with the moral choices faced by men in a world where money maketh the man. The Gate production is a straight-up affair, allowing Miller’s text to do its thing, to play out the stories of ordinary Americans in a moral, human context. Len Cariou is powerful as Joe Keller (in one exhausting, emotionally-charged scene he seizes, electrically) , Barbara Brennan is emotionally fierce as Kate, Peter Gaynor is compelling as George Deever and while the other performances don’t quite meet the measure of these three, it still makes for some gripping, lingering moments. Read Peter Crawley’s review here.

     Missed: David Byrne on Monday. Don’t want to talk about it.

  • ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy

    April 7, 2009 @ 1:48 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Some folk I know can love a song without having any notion of what’s being sung. The music takes precedence, and lyrics get sidelined in the listening process. Not me. I’m a lyrics lady, and can swing in favour of a band or singer simply by the order of words, the poetic content they put to melody. Favourites include – kind of obviously – Leonard Cohen (“Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in”), Tori Amos (“No one’s picking up the phone / Guess it’s clear he’s gone / And this little masochist / Is picking up her dress”), The Magnetic Fields (“It makes me feel blue / Pantone 292″), Bonnie Prince Billy (“A fireman her husband was/and so to give him duty/I duly tried to light a fire / upon his rightful booty”), Bell X1 (“I was other people’s children / I could always be sent home”), Sigur Ros (Ok, just kidding about the Sigur Ros bit). But you get the picture, and the list goes on and on. All time favourite? Bah, Hallelujah of course, for its perfect marrying of lyric to music (“It goes like this / the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall / and the major lift”). Yours?

  • Impac Award (unimaginative post title)

    April 2, 2009 @ 6:24 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Another day, another shortlist, and this time it’s for the Impac Award. The eight finalists are now tantalisingly close to a cool €100,000, which wouldn’t go astray in these difficult times. Now, the appearance of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist or Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on the list might make it seem a little after the fact, but only because the Impac has a particularly lengthy lead-in time (If I understand the rules correctly, in order to qualify for the 2009 awards novels had to be published either in English between January 1 and December 31 2007, or first published in an English translation between those dates). Books are nominated for the award by libraries all over the world, with a panel of judges winnowing it down to the shortlist, and then choosing a winner. So let’s see then: you could get whingey about the lack of female authors or Irish authors, or you could accentuate the positive for once, and point up the presence of a Dominican-American, a Pakistani-British, a French, a Norwegian and three American writers. Which sounds like something you could get your teeth into. Except for David Leavitt – spare me.

  • Outside the black-and-white lines

    March 8, 2009 @ 8:21 pm | by Fiona McCann

    A. A. Gill is not a writer I always admire. But he shone when he wrote on poetry in a piece that appeared in the Sunday Times today. “Most of us are gaffed, flayed, stitched up and stuffed by poems,” he said.  “We’re marked out and buoyed up by them. Even if we haven’t read a new one for a decade, still there are verses that are the most precious and dear cultural amulets we own, hidden in the dead letter boxes of our hearts. Ask anyone what’s right at the centre of their personal culture and it will be poetry. Snatches, lines of verse, we take them to our end. A poem is a thing that transcends its construction.” I don’t know if I agree that asking anyone will reveal that poetry is at the heart of his or her cultural matter,  but I know that’s true if you ask me. And now I’m asking you: what are the snatches, lines of verse that you will take to your end?

  • Review: An Equal Stillness

    February 28, 2009 @ 10:07 am | by Fiona McCann

    My review of Francesca Kay’s An Equal Stillness, which appears in today’s Irish Times.

  • Blookie delights

    February 19, 2009 @ 11:19 am | by Fiona McCann

    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?

  • Between the snow and the roses

    February 2, 2009 @ 2:04 pm | by Fiona McCann

    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…)

  • Catching Updike

    January 30, 2009 @ 11:43 am | by Fiona McCann

    The death of John Updike this week has been a sore reminder of the deficit in my book bank. Embarrassing as it is for me to admit this, I have never read John Updike. Not one single book in all my book-reading days. How’s that for a professed bookworm? In my defence, I do have a John Updike book on my shelf, where it has remained for many years now, sulking in neglect, unthumbed under dust. I guess now’s the time to make amends, but before I do so, I might as well seek the advice of those who have gone before. So Updike readers and fans, I call on you to tell me, if I’m going to start this catch-up on Updike, where should I begin?

  • It all came good (or bad) in the end

    January 28, 2009 @ 10:59 am | by Fiona McCann

    Dubliner Sebastian Barry has won the Costa Book of the Year award for his novel The Secret Scripture, despite the fact that among the judges “almost nobody liked the ending.” It’s a powerful book, beautifully written and, I think, important in allowing voices from Irish history that have been drowned out or silenced over the years to have their say and tell their stories BUT (no surprises here), the ending is a strangely neat wrap of a story compelling for its lack of same. If that makes any sense. It does seem a strange decision on the part of the judges to reveal how close their vote was (Adam Foulds’ The Broken Word was a near contender), and to discuss their quibbles with their chosen book, one that takes away from Barry’s long-awaited day. Regardless, it’s a happy ending for Barry – but what about the book? Anyone think the judges (Matthew Parris, Alexander Armstrong, Michael Buerk, Andrea Catherwood, Victoria Hislop, Lisa Jewell, Roger McGough, Pauline McLynn and Rosamund Pike) got it wrong about the ending, or indeed about the winner?

  • Are we not of interest to each other?

    January 20, 2009 @ 12:27 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Elizabeth Alexander, poet and professor of African-American studies at Yale, has been chosen to compose and deliver a poem at Obama’s inauguration today. On her website, Alexander pays tribute to Obama’s “respect for the power of language.” Because, as she tells it, “poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in.”

    So much for poetry making nothing happen. After all, as Alexander herself articulated in her creed Ars Poetica #100: I Believe:

    “Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
    is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?”

    A question worth pondering on a day when the promise of the election of a new president thousands of miles away is palpable even in a grey-rimmed office on Tara street.

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