Dalkey Book Festival a delicious cocktail of politics and culture

Eclectic line-up of speakers tackled Turkey, Brexit, Trump and Donna Summer

The European Union is like the Eagles' Hotel California, the world shifted on its axis with the release of Donna Summer's I Feel Love, and everyone in 1950s America was drunk.

These were some of the insights shared at this year’s Dalkey Book Festival by an impressive line-up of speakers from the worlds of literature, history, politics and culture.

From Yanis Varoufakis’s observation that, if you’re a member of the EU, “you can check out, but you can never leave” to Brian Eno’s wistful regret that he hadn’t come up first with the simple notion of combining computer-generated beats with gospel-inspired vocals, the weekend was a celebration of the collision of words and ideas, through debates, readings, interviews and performances.

Hot topics

It started in a rain-lashed marquee overlooking Dalkey Island with a compelling interview with Turkish writer


Elif Shafak

by David McWilliams. The author of

The Bastard of Istanbul


The Forty Years of Love

explored the relationship between language, religion, patriarchy, national identity and art in a wide-ranging discussion that returned more than once to the closing of minds under the Erdogan government.

The next day, Shafak would discuss the relationship between Greece and Turkey with Varoufakis, who had already had his own solo interview with the indefatigable McWilliams.

Since his spell as Greece’s finance minister, Varoufakis has become a figure of admiration in many quarters and derision in others, as much for the unorthodoxy of his personal style as for his analysis of the “19th century power politics” driving the Greek and Irish bailouts.

Dressed in a pink T-shirt and jeans, he said he was campaigning for a “Remain” vote in the British referendum because the UK needed to be a part of the EU in order to challenge the status quo. “A vote for Brexit won’t restore the sovereignty the British people need,” he said. “By voting to leave, you’re not getting out of the mess, you’re making the mess worse.”

In St Patrick's Church the following evening, Malcolm Gladwell smiled beatifically from the pulpit when a late ray of sunshine bathed him in golden light just as he answered a question about karma. The best-selling author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers had been teasing out an intriguing proposition – that ethical principles in the western world had shifted in the last 50 years from judging how bad an action was based on its "wrongfulness" (how seriously it breached accepted moral codes) to its "harmfuless" (how much damage or pain it inflicted on others).

Tracing change

Taking the 1950s novel

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

(in which, he noted in passing, everybody drank astounding amounts of alcohol at all times of the day and night), he traced a change which has had positive consequences, such as the achievement of LGBT rights, but which also threatened to infantilise debates such as the controversy over “safe spaces” on US university campuses.

Brian Eno would be a crowd-puller at any event; his conceptual and practical work at the juncture of pop and the avant-garde, collaborations with megastars from Bowie to U2, and position as midwife to genres such as ambient and electronica, all place him as one of the most influential cultural figures of the last half-century.

In a wide-ranging, but sometimes unfocused public conversation, he defined art as “everything you don’t have to do” and decried the trend towards utilitarianism in education.

And Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's 1970s disco smash represented exactly the kind of syntheses he liked "when two very different things are put together".

Which sums up what makes Dalkey’s festival tick. Despite a downpour on Sunday, the event continued putting things together in interesting ways, including feisty discussions on the Meaning of Trump, the implications of Brexit and perennial favourite the Death of the Novel. On the evidence of this weekend, though, the appetite for the word is in little danger of disappearing.

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan

Hugh Linehan is an Irish Times writer and Duty Editor. He also presents the weekly Inside Politics podcast