Swan Song, Irish regional press and selected journalism
Browser: works by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott and Anthony Burgess
Truman Capote: “Swan Song” paints an eloquent picture of the writer as his talents waned.
Swan Song, by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (Hutchinson)
Snapped up with a six-figure advance in 2016, Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s debut novel Swan Song was a decade in the writing. Taking as its subject the novelist Truman Capote, struck with writer’s block after the phenomenal success of In Cold Blood, Greenberg-Jephcott’s debut treads a careful line between fact and fiction, centring on the publication of a series of excerpts from Capote’s roman à clef, Answered Prayers, originally published in Esquire in 1975. Only two excerpts, “Mojave” and “La Côte Basque”, were ever printed: the rest of the chapters were either unwritten at the time of Capote’s death, or have gone missing. Nevertheless, the excerpts caused an uproar, revealing as they did the secrets, cynicism and indiscretions of the Manhattan elite. In this skilful metafiction, Greenberg-Jephcott writes in the voices of Capote’s “swans”, the socialites who fed him gossip throughout his career. Its unusual narration, calling up a host of women and using “we” throughout, gives it a strangely choric effect, and paints an eloquent picture of Capote as his talents waned, and those who had welcomed him into their privileged lives began to turn against him. A slick debut pulled off with brio, Swan Song is glamorous, vivid and sometimes even daring in its intelligence.
The Irish Regional Press 1892-2018, by Ian Kenneally & James O’Donnell (eds) (Four Courts Press)
For anyone interested in the history of the Irish media, this essay collection provides a valuable survey and analysis of the regional press. To indicate how it once thrived, in total, 13 different titles were produced in Sligo 1885-1927 but only two survived. Of the book’s two sections, the first provides specific case studies, mainly of Cork, Kerry, Sligo and Westmeath, while the second considers such themes as nationalism, the Irish language, censorship and the coverage of foreign news. Growing literacy and the technological revolution provided by the linotype machine facilitated growth, as did the strengthening drive towards independence, which characterised the regional press so much that Christopher Doughan describes it as providing “a supplementary nationalism”. Censorship during the first World War and especially in the 1916-1923 period meant the local press had to tread warily to survive. After Independence, many titles, especially Protestant/unionist ones, disappeared. More recently, all’s changed utterly with family ownership giving way to corporate media groups, thus weakening the local connection, while the post-Celtic Tiger collapse dealt a further blow.
The Ink Trade: Selected Journalism 1961-1993 by Anthony Burgess. Edited by Will Carr (Carcanet Press)
Anthony Burgess pulled off one of the great japes in journalism. As fiction critic for the Yorkshire Post in the 1960s, he reviewed a book called Inside Mister Enderby by Joseph Kell. Kell was a pseudonym of Burgess, so he was, in fact, reviewing himself. The appraisal was not entirely favourable. Burgess was sacked for the stunt, whereupon Gore Vidal remarked: “At least he is the first novelist in England to know that a reviewer has actually read the book under review.”
Reading clumps of this entertaining and wide-ranging collection is like popping into a pub to spend an hour in the company of an erudite and garrulous polymath. When you resurface, blinking towards the light, you look at things a little differently. Any sentence Burgess wrote on his hero Joyce feels brilliantly perceptive, for example. This collection will stretch you, too (“ . . . an exophthalmic goitrous quill-chewer, evidently both syphilitic and phthisical”). But then language is one pleasure in reading Burgess – he lobs words like explosions in his symphonies of thought.