Julian Gough: acting the goat
The writer has never been afraid to make a statement – or to step on a few reputations – and there are clear targets in his ‘funny but important’ play about booms, hedge funds and a dead goat
CONSIDERING THAT HE has assiduously forged a reputation as an iconoclastic mischief-maker, Julian Gough has, over the course of an hour’s conversation, proved disappointingly reasonable and polite company. Then, with the interview winding down, he finally does what is expected of him and starts to hold forth on the state of contemporary Irish literature.
“There are loads of really nice Irish writers, and they write well, but I just feel a lot of them do not use their freedom,” he says. “We write the same stuff that my dad was reading as a kid, and it just annoys me. But look at the precedents in Irish literature. You’ve got Swift, Sterne, Beckett, Joyce. You’ve got so many revolutionary, original writers coming out of this country, and what we should be copying is not what they did but how they did it. We shouldn’t be copying their settings but their liberty of imagination.
“There’s a misunderstanding of what it is to be a traditional Irish writer. To me it means being revolutionary, to mess with people’s heads, to do stuff that will alienate half your audience and won’t find a genre in Eason’s or WH-effing-Smith’s. Make them invent a new category for you.”
As well known for his provocative pronouncements as for his fiction, Gough may know how to create a stir, but he has always been true to his word. Be it his anarchically inventive novels or even his tenure as singer with the indie band Toasted Heretic, the English-born, Irish-raised writer has always followed his own path, without heed to tradition, much less popularity.
“I like to collide together things that haven’t been collided before, to smash them into each other to see what happens. I think the spark of art comes from banging things together,” he says. “It’s like trying to create primitive nuclear fusion. Now, some people don’t like that.”
The Great Goat Bubble, Gough’s first theatrical venture, is in keeping with this ethos. The play, which opens at Galway Arts Festival on July 16th, is conventional in form, consisting of a dialogue between Jude (Ciarán O’Brien) – the orphaned naif who features in much of Gough’s work – and Dr Ibrahimbihi (Wil Johnson), a Somali economist who has just arrived in the Ireland of the mid-1980s.
As they sit on a station platform awaiting a much-delayed train, Ibrahimbihi tells Jude how he drove his three-legged goat on to the runway at Hargeisa airport, in his homeland, an action that saw him compensated with double the price of the deceased animal, in short order triggering the speculative frenzy of the title. In drawing together the unusual combination of goats and economics, Gough comes up with an arresting comic scenario but also manages to entertainingly elucidate normally opaque subjects such as market bubbles and hedge funds: hardly surprising, as the play started life as a prescient short story for the Financial Times in 2003, before becoming a BBC radio play in 2009.