Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I love all things Irish. This ardor doesn’t come from a trip to Ireland, although I hope I will go one day. My love could be inherited from Hannah Horn, my great-grandmother from County Cork – although all I know about her is her musical name. It could be that Irish American families and friends I’ve loved all my life (including the very wise and well-read M. Lucia Kuppens, O.S.B., at The Abbey of Regina Laudis) have captured my heart and transformed it forever – yes, this is true. In addition to all this, Irish literature has become a cherished world I’m still discovering.
I came first, around the age of twenty, to the poetry of W.B. Yeats, which captivated me with its incantatory lyrics, and the thoughtfulness of later poems like “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” Cutting against such graceful, contemplative poetry came the mordant, moving plays of Samuel Beckett, which I first read in college, and first saw in my twenties.
(Happy Days, one of my favorite Beckett plays, in which a woman occupies herself with toothbrush, lipstick, daily items, as the sand in which she’s stuck rises, will be at CalShakes soon!)
James Joyce’s Dubliners opened up for me the yearning and sorrow of children and others in lives that could be pierced by epiphany. Joyce’s voluble Molly Bloom, in the last chapter of Ulysses, will be my companion for life, as will Portia in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart.
When my children were young, I often chose children’s books based on myths Yeats and other Irish writers loved and used. Tomie dePaola’s sturdy, colorful version of the Cuchulain myth, Finn M’Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill, is one of the many that tickled my children and me equally.
Fiction I’ve come to love recently includes Brian Moore’s 1955 novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, with its concoction of compassion, realism, and bitter humor. In Moore’s honest vision, the world and heaven itself have come down to a bare boarding house room and the hopes and anguish of a middle-aged woman, longing for an epiphany out of her reach. I came to this novel soon after reading Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes, a book that offers a different portrait, just as fierce and beautiful in its own way (pace to that great-hearted, brilliant son of Angela McCourt).
I hope you may have come across John Banville’s lyrical The Sea and Sebastian Barry’s Annie Dunne, both of which unfold – each in its own gorgeous, slow way – buried secrets. And, finally, I encourage you to read Anne Enright’s novel The Gathering, which offers a similar unfolding, yet in a lusciously fragmented style. To read this novel is to listen closely to a compelling, harshly funny, honest, contradictory, and ultimately redemptive narrative voice – the voice of a woman who has lost her brother to suicide, and who is bent on reconstructing and understanding the childhood she shared with him.
I’d love to hear your own recommendations of books by Irish authors. Anecdotes and travel stories welcome too!