Winter Papers: a potent antidote to the season’s blues

Anthology review: Eclectic collection of work evokes comforting sense of ongoingness and shared humanity

Winter Papers contains 32 varied contributions - essays, fiction, poetry, interviews and photography

Winter Papers contains 32 varied contributions - essays, fiction, poetry, interviews and photography

Paraic O’Donnell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002. In a personal essay entitled The Last Garden, he describes the debilitating impact of the disease: “The nature of this thing is simple – it is meticulously destroying me. I am being unmade.” Though weakened by illness he embarked on an ambitious and physically demanding gardening project; it was “a pitiful bourgeois hero quest, a futile paroxysm of denial”.

O’Donnell is keen to distance himself from “redemption porn, in which catastrophic diagnoses . . . are reduced to ‘life experiences’ and mined for fatuous koans of acceptance and serenity.” He tells his story in a brisk, earthy register garnished with casual profanity, which generates a feeling of intimacy more authentic and affecting than any studious solemnising. In an insightful aside, he suggests his sardonicism isn’t a matter of deflection but a kind of radical candour: gallows humour “isn’t humour at all, more a stylised form of existential rage.”

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