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  • Let the Great World Spin

    May 4, 2010 @ 12:40 pm | by Rosita Boland

    The book for May is Colum McCann’s, Let the Great World Spin, which won the prestigious  National Book Award for fiction in the US late last year.

     Colum, who now lives in New York, has agreed to answer questions about the book, so later in the month, there will be an opportunity to do that.

    So to kick off this month, here is the interview I did last August with Colum, when the book had just come out. This is the review of the book that Niall MacMonagle wrote about Let the Great World Spin for the Irish Times. This is the review that the New York Times gave the book. It’s a book “that will sneak up on you” the reviewer points out.

    Maybe to start the discussion, we can look at why you think this book has been described as a 9/11 novel? It doesn’t specifically mention that day, it’s set in 1974, not 2001. Yet it’s been hailed as a great 9/11 novel from quarters such as Esquire magazine’s description of it as ”The first great 9/11 novel.” What do you think?

    Also, tonight (Tuesday 4 May), Colum is the subject of RTE 1′s excellent Arts Lives documentaries, at 10.15pm. I am pretty sure you’ll be able to watch this back on Real Player if you can’t catch it tonight and would like to see it.

    I am away most of this month, so my colleague Fiona McCann, who has a terrific arts blog here at the IT, Pursued by a Bear, and is a features and arts journalist, will be moderating in my absence.

  • Why does Dorian Gray destroy his own portrait?

    April 21, 2010 @ 5:26 pm | by Rosita Boland

    He has kept it hidden from public view for decades. He could ensure that it remains hidden for decades more. He has lived with its hideousness for a long time. Why do you think he destroys it? Was it recklessness? Arrogance? Despair? Conscience -did he even have a conscience any more?

    Here is a scrap of what some people think is the only surviving recording of Oscar Wilde’s voice.  It has not been officially verified, but it’s the only onethat ever seems to turn up when looking for a recording of Wilde – so far. Eerie, either way. And don’t forget, many events still happening around the book this month in Dublin. See for details

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  • Your favourite quote

    April 16, 2010 @ 6:22 pm | by Rosita Boland

    Dorian Gray is crammed with so many nuggets of wonderful quotes that it’s hard to read more than a few pages without pausing and thinking: Oh, so that’s where that came from!

    At the moment, my favourite quotes – both my Dorian – are “You cut life to pieces with your epigrams.” And “I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don’t interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.”


  • Was Dorian Gray aware of the bargain he made?

    April 9, 2010 @ 3:16 pm | by Rosita Boland

    We know what happened. Dorian stays young; the picture ages. In Chapter 2, he says, “How sad it is! I shall grow old and horrible and dreadful. It [the portrait] will never be older than this particular day of June…if only it were the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”

    But we all talk like that at times. “I’d do this if I could get that,” kind of thing. The running commentary we all have in our heads. Most of which we do not mean, and which are not meant to be taken literally. “I’d kill to have those shoes/that house/that job”.

    Yet somehow, his throwaway comment becomes real. Did he invite his fate? Was he a victim? Was it a conscious decision on his part? Why should one suffer for a mistake? Was he aware of the bargain he made? What do you think?

    This is a link to  pictures of Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris

  • What do you think is in Lord Henry’s book?

    April 7, 2010 @ 5:44 pm | by Rosita Boland

     Dorian Gray is given “a novel without a plot” by Lord Henry, in Chapter 10. The gift of this yellow book comes after a crucial development in the narrative, and he describes it “as the strangest book that he had ever read….It was a poisonous book.” Have a look at the page where the book – or rather, the effect that the book has on Dorian Gray – is described. It is deliberately not stated what’s in it, but the very first line of the next chapter is: “For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence of this book.”

    What do you think was in this book? Why can’t he free himself from its influence? What do you think it says to him, at that time? Why did Lord Henry give it to him?

    Our literary correspondent, Eileen Battersby, has written a great piece about The Picture of Dorian Gray in the Irish Times today here

     This is a beautiful eight-minute video i found on YouTube – a puppet animation of five keys works and scenes from Wilde’s life, including Dorian Gray. Imaginative, and lovely.

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    The Picture of Dorian Gray is also Dublin’s One City, One Book this month. Many associated events happening

  • Dorian Gray – why is this book still so relevant?

    April 1, 2010 @ 6:02 am | by Rosita Boland

    So our book for April is the gripping and gothic novel by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’ve just read this for the first time myself, and although I knew the rough outline – as we all probably do, picture in attic changes on outside, man in picture changes on inside – I hadn’t known the how and why. I was so enthralled by the book I almost missed my flight being called in London last week and had to scamper to the gate post-haste.

    I thought we might kick off this month’s debate by talking about why this novel, first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly magazine(collector’s item if ever was one), and then in book form the following year; why is it still so relevant? What does it say to you? For me, I could not stop thinking about how every generation prizes youth and beauty, but that in 2010, people now have options available to them that were not around 100 years ago. Plastic surgery and the cult of trying to look young and beautiful when you are no longer young – this is all post Wilde’s time. But the idea is the same: paying a price for appearing to remain young. People marvelled at Dorian Gray’s eternal youth, but if you get plastic surgery in 2010, you get ridiculed. The internet lets us know how old everyone is. Wilde took the topic of the cult of youth and beauty to fantastical extremes, but it’s still  an eerily relevant theme today.

    Aside from this, the themes are so huge: truth, one’s ability to deceive oneself, integrity and the lack of it. What makes us human? What makes us inhuman? What do you think?

    To remind you all, The Picture of Dorian Gray is also the choice of Dublin’s One City One Book this April, and there are lots of great events going on all month, many of them themed around the book, and most of them free. A highlight will be Merlin Holland, Wilde’s only grandson, will be speaking on Wednesday evening, 7 April, on the topic “Killing one peacock with two stones; Dorian Gray and the downfall of Oscar Wilde.” There are also talks, workshops, plays, movies and interactive events. Check out their programme here

  • The skeletal Lovely Bones – and April’s book

    March 25, 2010 @ 2:32 pm | by Rosita Boland

     As you know, this is only the second month of the Book Club and we are learning as we go along. Brooklyn was our kick-off book and it got a lot of feedback. But Lovely Bones doesn’t seem to have engaged readers in the same way at all. Skeletal bones, in fact. Maybe it’s because when it came out in 2002, lots of you read it then, and didn’t want to read it again, but had forgotten the ins and outs of it. Also, when movie reviews of the film-of-the-book are so poor, they don’t help either.

    We’ve a week left to discuss the book, so it’s over to you – please post do some questions or topics, and we’ll work with those.

    Our book for April is going to be The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s classic, first published in 1891. It is also going to be Dublin’s One City One Book for April, so there are lots of really interesting ancillary events going on around the book – a festival, really. I’ll be posting more about that during April.

  • Alice Sebold interviewed and Heaven in Lovely Bones

    March 16, 2010 @ 5:18 pm | by Rosita Boland

    Hi folks

    Here is a short interview YouTube Preview Image Alice Sebold did with Sky, in which she talks about all of her books, but especially Lovely Bones. The interviewer asks if she writes about events that happened in her own life – referring to the rape when she was a college student – and Sebold replies, “It’s a lazier way to read.”

    So what do you think of the version of Heaven in LB? Heaven even as a concept is not relevant to some readers (such as myself), who does not believe there is anything after this life. Sebold’s Heaven doesn’t have a traditional god-like figure. Obviously, nobody has come back to report from Heaven to tell us what it’s like. But is Sebold’s version convincing? Why so? What makes it so? Inventing a place as a writer clearly gives you a lot of freedom to put into it whatever you like. What do you think of it?

  • The role of punishment in Lovely Bones

    March 7, 2010 @ 1:10 pm | by Rosita Boland

     Last month, I read this novel again, knowing we would be talking about it for March. Second readings always reveal things you didn’t notice so much first time. On the first reading of this book, about six years ago, it was the narrative, the sheer force of the story, that propelled it forward for me. This time, I found myself analysing it differently. I was trying to work out how Alice Sebold made such a difficult subject – rape and murder of a child – so readable.

    It struck me that punishment is a key theme here; all sorts of complex types of punishment. Susie’s father punishes himself, so too does her mother – and by so doing, also punishes the rest of the family by leaving them. You can see what Sebold is trying to do here – that victims of violence are often made to suffer twice over; once from the impact of the original crime, and secondly in the manner they cope with the aftermath. Her own personal experience of a traumatic rape when 19 definitely informs this novel.

    So what about the punishment of Mr Harvey? Spoiler alert – he does die before the novel ends. How important to us as readers is it that we know he dies? Crucially, Susie’s family do not know her murderer is dead. Would you feel differently about the Lovely Bones had Mr Harvey’s death not been part of the narrative? In a novel with a disturbing theme, is it essential to have some kind of accountability? After all, in reality, many people do get away with their crimes.

  • The Lovely Bones as Unlovely Movie

    March 1, 2010 @ 6:40 pm | by Rosita Boland

    Hello to all, and welcome to the discussion of March’s book, which is Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. 

    The Lovely Bones has been around for a few years now – since 2002 – and has sold over a million copies. No spoiler alert necessary here, since we know as early as the second sentence of the novel that the narrator, 14-year-old Susie, is already dead, murdered by a neighbour. 

    Many of you will most likely have already read it. Chances are, you’ve also seen Peter Jackson’s movie of the book, (with our own Saoirse Ronan as Susie). It’s still in the cinemas. I went to see it last week, and I must confess, I found the experience repellent. That’s a strong word. But it’s the right one for what it made me feel.  

    It made me think that an interesting place to start this month’s discussion would be to talk about why the subject matter – a murdered girl – somehow worked as fiction, and literature and made one (or it did me, want to keep reading it), but in this movie, the same subject is dealt with dreadfully. The best literature always shows, not tells. It doesn’t over-explain. But in the movie, which has a 12 cert, while we don’t see the actual murder, we do see even more disturbing images, such as the murdered girl victims gambolling around together in a weird sanitised version of Heaven. In our imagination, we can imagine Susie’s heaven, but Peter Jackson leaves us no room to imagine it, and what he shows us is crude and prescriptive and somehow – to my mind – all wrong. 

    The film got mostly poor reviews for its interpretation of the novel. Here’s what our movie critic, Donald Clarke, who also blogs as Screenwriter, wrote about it recently in the Ticket. He was not the only one to give it such a poor review. 

    But perhaps you have seen the film and disagree with both myself and Donald?How about we talk about why some things in literature – specifically, in the Lovely Bones –  do not translate onto the screen? Why? Why does this story work on the page but not on screen? Or do you think it does work?  If you read the book, and liked the film, what did you like about it? 

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