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I’m going to say goodbye to New York while I’m there – just in case

I love the city, as it is now – but I fear that might change. Pray that Prophet Song remains a work of fiction

We haven’t told her yet – so you better not either – but we’re going to bring Daughter Number Four to New York. Her sense of American geography is still a bit hazy, but she’s seen enough American movies to know that the cities there are loud, frenetic places, that the buildings are tall and the cabs are yellow. What she doesn’t know is that New York is one of the few places on Earth that is exactly the way you expect it to be: coming in on the expressway from Queens, the stacked buildings suddenly rise up before you, and it’s breathtaking. Moments later, you’re inside it. Manhattan is a living film set, and it can seem as if everyone there is a character in a story you’re living through; and you’re a character living through theirs. It’s a physical place, but also a mythological one.

Of course, this is my reaction to the city, which I have visited many times, and still gives me a tingle. But anyone who has been a parent for longer than five minutes will know – or should know – that trying to transmit your enthusiasms to your children can often pave the way to heartbreak. Just because you like something doesn’t mean your child will. No matter how hard you push it. Pushing can often have the opposite effect.

Daughter Number Four might be largely unmoved, or find it a bit too noisy and overwhelming. Or even be a bit bored. We’ve already accepted that this won’t be a grown-up city break. We won’t be going to jazz clubs to drink whiskey sours or eating in Michelin-starred restaurants. There will be a lot of visiting kid-friendly attractions. We’ll try to restrict the consumerism as much as possible and anywhere we eat out will have to be very carefully chosen. Daughter Number Four is a frustratingly fussy eater.

Anyway, the chances are – and this has been my experience on previous visits – that the most vivid memories will happen from things we didn’t plan for. Someone starts talking to you, or you overhear a conversation or an argument or witness some event on the sidewalk. Something is always going on. New York is a film set with a bit of street theatre thrown in.


My hope is that when she’s older, perhaps in many years, she can look back and remember that she saw New York City, she saw the United States, at a time when some of the admirable parts of it still remained. This might sound doomsdayish, but the US may well become a place she wouldn’t want to visit.

It’s not quite that desperate in the US. Yet. But it is moving in a disquieting direction. At the end of this year, Donald Trump may be elected president

Americans tend to be optimistic about their country: a quality I used to find endearing. Now they are starting to remind me of Eilish, the main character in Paul Lynch’s dystopian, Booker Prize-winning novel Prophet Song. Despite the arrest of her husband, the secret police and the roving gangs, she still has difficulty accepting that things have got as bad as they have. Not in Ireland. Not in her home.

It’s not quite that desperate in the US. Yet. But it is moving in a disquieting direction. At the end of this year, Donald Trump may be elected president. And God knows what he’ll do. Or he may not be elected president. And God knows what he’ll do. But even if he decided to retire from politics and took a vow of silence, the poisonous, paranoid divisions he and others helped stir up are cracking the foundations of the United States. It’s a politics of fear and threat that has migrated around the world. It’s all around Europe, and Ireland too. Pray that Prophet Song remains a work of fiction.

Of course, our trip to New York isn’t just for Daughter Number Four. It’s for me too. I love the city, as it is now. But I fear that might change. When we’re there, I’m going to say goodbye. Just in case.