Out of this world: magic realism in Irish fiction

A Dublin Book Festival event celebrated magic realism and fantasy in Irish literature. But why do most Irish writers shy away from the fantastic? Roisín O’Donnell inquires

Roisín O’Donnell: 	Ireland, with its healthy litany of superstitions,   myths and often illogical way of doing things, would seem like the ideal climate in which to cultivate a culture of what many simply refer to as “Strange Fiction”. Photograph:  Daithi Taylor.

Roisín O’Donnell: Ireland, with its healthy litany of superstitions, myths and often illogical way of doing things, would seem like the ideal climate in which to cultivate a culture of what many simply refer to as “Strange Fiction”. Photograph: Daithi Taylor.

On Capel Street, between the sex shops, sushi bars, Korean hairdressers and hardware stores, there is a 7D Cinema. Whenever I pass, it makes me smile, wondering what the seven dimensions could possibly be. After sight and sound, I’m told on good authority that the dimensions include blasts of perfume, wind machines and a variety of fluids sprayed at unexpected moments. It would certainly make for an unorthodox first date.

But when you stop to think about it, seven dimensions is no stretch of the imagination. After all, reality is multi-sensory, and in this regard it could be said that naturalist writing holds itself up against impossible standards; 2D words on a 2D page can never fully capture the 7D experience of life. But there is another style of writing which manages to dodge this problem. It does so by never claiming to be realistic in the first place, enabling the writer to reach straight to the heart of the human experience. This is magical realism.

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