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In praise of Christine Dwyer Hickey, by John Montague

Irish Women Writers: ‘Novelist, short-story writer and playwright, as diverse and original a talent as one could hope to find’

Christine Dwyer Hickey: “In its energy and sweep, her Dublin trilogy resembles the 19th-century novel, but Tatty establishes Dwyer Hickey firmly in the modernist tradition.” Photograph: Eric Luke

When I read Christine Dwyer Hickey’s Dublin trilogy, I was impressed by her vigour and by the breadth of her imagination. Those qualities were impressive enough, but then she produced Tatty, a book which almost creates a new genre: the memoir-novel. In its energy and sweep, the trilogy resembles the 19th-century novel, but Tatty establishes Dwyer Hickey firmly in the modernist tradition. It is a work of pathos and delicacy, and its tender evocation of childhood brings Katherine Mansfield to mind. And then Dwyer Hickey surprised us again. Last Train from Liguria is a complex historical novel about madness and memory, and also about Italy, whose confusions and betrayals just before the Second World War she analyses in limpid, stylish prose. Next, in Cold Eye of Heaven, we are drawn again back to Dublin, and into the life of a man who is at once ordinary and remarkable. Novelist, short-story writer and playwright, Christine Dwyer Hickey is as diverse and original a talent as one could hope to find.

Other favourites: Edna O’Brien and Paula Meehan

John Montague became the first occupant of the Ireland Chair of Poetry in 1998. His New Collected Poems were published by Gallery Press in 2012.