Fine study of Marina Carr’s place in a patriarchal Irish playography
Browser reviews: New from Linda Grant and Lynne Murphy, an Emmanuel Bove classic
Playwright Marina Carr Photograph: Sara Freund / The Irish Times
Marina Carr: Pastures In The Unknown
An erudite, thought-provoking and startling fresh academic study which situates Marina Carr’s plays in relation to the patriarchal lineage of Irish modern drama.
Melissa Sihra explores Carr’s use of language, femininity and the supernatural and draws timely comparisons between the playwright’s changing reception in relation to her female predecessors. In one chapter parallels are drawn between Lady Gregory’s play Kathleen Ní Houlihan and Carr’s seminal play On Raftery’s Hill, and Sihra argues for a single-set production of the two works.
Offering an accessible balance between biography and academic rigour, this monograph is insightful and covers an area of study in Carr that is often neglected. Both Sihra’s interviews with the playwright and her use of archival manuscript sources from the National Library add weight and fresh approaches to her arguments, which is enhanced by the wide literary circle to whom she compares Carr’s work (Sihra’s allusions to Checkov and Máiréad Ní Ghráda are of particular interest). Overall this book offers valuable critical study on Carr and – accurately – locates her within the female genealogy of modern Irish drama. Mia Colleran
The charm of the Classics series is finding strange little books like this. The ironically-titled My Friends describes the life of Victor Baton, who is something of an impoverished non-entity, roving inter-war Paris or squirreled away in his bolthole nursing bruising injustices. At home he over-thinks, and over-eggs, the day’s events with a drip-drip despair. Baton feels the world is failing him, not the other way around, most pointedly in that basic human need: friendship. Bove writes his protagonist with bleak humour, in punchy sentences. The reader can tell much of Baton’s personality from this: “It would be better to brush them [teeth] in the evening, but I am never brave enough”. And when the world gives him a break – the owner of a local cafe takes him into her bed – it brings only fleeting joy, which Bove captures with perfect deadpan: “Since then, whenever I go there to eat, she serves me just as she has always done, no better and no worse.” An enjoyable ramble in naive realism. NJ McGarrigle
A Stranger City
Linda Grant’s A Stranger City is a murkily unsettling book located with some intentional obfuscation in a post-Brexit London. Opening on the sparsely attended funeral of an unidentified woman, Grant takes her loosely connected cast far beyond disconcerting alienation to a city of despair, volatility and only sporadic warmth. Documentary film-maker Alan, his privileged but floundering wife Francesca, retired policeman Pete, Irish nurse Chrissie and most potently Chrissie’s troubled one-time flatmate Marco are blighted by a lack of control over their destinies as London’s economy and politics run away from them. Inevitably, this reads more like timely commentary than timeless story. The novel makes a Thames-like meander to outright dystopia, with detailed portraiture rather than intricate plotting its aim. Joy is largely absent: a moment of spirited YouTube dancing fame from Chrissie’s recent past proves a counterpoint to the grimness, and although one particular hate crime stands out, violence becomes the consistent, yet never normalised, backdrop to these Londoners’ lives. Laura Slattery
The Prodigal Tongue
The book’s subtitle is “the love-hate relationship between British- and American-English”. Conservative linguists on this side of the Atlantic tend to bemoan the “damage” American-English is doing to the language. Lynne Murphy coins the term “amerilexicophobia” for this distaste (the fear is engendered by the belief that American-English is taking over) and shows that it’s based on very shaky ground. Our beliefs about languages derive from “cognitive biases”, she says, and her “Lynneguist’s Law” (she is fond of neologisms) states: “Any list of seven ‘Americanisms’ or ‘Britishisms’, not compiled by a trained lexicographer, will contain nonsense.” She proves this contention with many examples. Indeed, terms often thought of as British-English, for example, “the bee’s knees” and “poppycock”, actually originated in America. While the work is certainly scholarly (Murphy is a professor of linguistics) and explores the minutiae of grammar, spelling, phonetics etc, the engaging, thoughtful and humorous approach makes for a readable and informative experience. English is full of inconsistencies and pitfalls and to claim superiority is foolish. It’s also a “fantastically flexible medium” to be enjoyed rather than fretted over. Brian Maye