‘Long on material for jeremiads like this’: John Andrew Fredrick’s ‘The King of Good Intentions II’: Book Review

A fresh novel about the travails of a struggling musician on L.A.’s indie-rock fringe, this sequel to The King of Good Intentions continues the story of John and his jangle-pop band, The Weird Sisters. Likely at least semi-autobiographical, narrated after all by John with frequent asides to us, this takes up the tale on the 5th of April, 1994, the day Kurt Cobain died. While only Raleigh, the new drummer, feels bereft by this news as the band ends its … Read more

‘The Living Spirit of Revolt: the Infrapolitics of Anarchism’: Book Review

How can anarchism get beyond marginalized impacts, finicky theorists, and squabbling activists? A Slovenian political scientist, Žiga Vodovnik, offers suggestions forward. This concise survey occupies a space, if pre-Occupy (despite a 2013 copyright for the English translation this offers no updates but the late Howard Zinn, who died in 2010, provides an encouraging introduction), where an overview of anarchism’s philosophies and history segues into a connection to not only Continental and British thinkers, but its overlooked, attenuated American Transcendental roots. … Read more

Fergal MacIonnrachtaigh’s ‘Language, Resistance & Revival’; Book Review

What motivates families with little money and often no upbringing in their ancestral language to send their children off to schools to be taught in it? Why would prisoners, English-speaking from birth, teach each other that challenging language, given few resources and violent retribution? What links these two communities of activists, in the context of Belfast and the Irish North? A participant-observer from West Belfast, Dr Fergal Mac Ionnrachtaigh reports on the background, the theory, and the practice of how … Read more

Eamon Carr’s ‘Deirdre Unforgiven’: Book Review

As a musician and poet, Éamon Carr came to prominence in the Irish counterculture in the late 1960s, and as drummer for Horslips, he memorably created lyrics blending the Ulster Cycle and other Celtic tales into hard-charging or softly lilting music. Now, he returns to these inspirations, but, in the intervening decades, the impacts of Northern violence, itself recapitulated, mythologised, and raw, darken this play, subtitled ‘a journal of sorrows’. For, during the 1990s, Carr as a journalist revisited places … Read more

Tony Bailie’s ‘A Verse to Murder’: Book Review

Maurice Burns’ cover merits study–it’s well chosen and ties into this mystery within, as elaborated by an informant. The title, a play off of the ‘murder of crows’, echoes in the name of Barry Crowe, a Belfast journalist (or is it ‘sleazy tabloid hack’?) pursuing the backstory behind the sudden demise, apparently by auto-asphyxiation, of Northern Ireland’s leading poet. The compromising circumstances unfold neatly in this e-book novella. Bailie, whose Lagan Press novels The Lost Chord and Ecopunks delved into … Read more

‘To the winds our sails: Irish writers translate Galician poetry’: Book Review

This 2010 anthology collects five poems each from ten Galician women. Irish poets translate four per poet from an English-language crib, with the remaining one rendered into Irish itself. The results reveal some of the revived enthusiasm and energy emanating from this northwestern corner of Iberia, with its alleged ancient ties to the Celtic lands, as the legendary homeland of the Irish themselves. How such expression cross over linguistic expanses, co-editor Mary O’Donnell observes, raise questions. ‘It remains one of … Read more

Colin Broderick’s ‘That’s That’: Book Review

While the phrase popularized by Seamus Heaney ‘whatever you say, say nothing’ endures as a code for Northern Irish character toughened by the Troubles, Colin Broderick’s telling of his childhood reveals the language unspoken. He gives us a glimpse at those in the IRA who were never by necessity singled out by their supporters, but who carried themselves with an air of entitlement, entrusted as they were by the Catholic community with their protection and their idealism in a time … Read more

Wes Davis’ ‘An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry’: Book Review

While modern, this anthology’s not only modernist in scope; Davis in helpful prefatory essays brings on about fifty poets and gives each perhaps twenty selections. He frames this with a few unobtrusive (if too scanty for a less-informed readership I assume may be often outside of Ireland) endnotes and a helpful, if truncated general introduction. There, anticipating an audience who may take him to task for not including Yeats, he begins with ‘ancestral figures like [Austin] Clarke, [Patrick] Kavanagh, and … Read more

‘The Letters of Samuel Beckett: 1941-1956’: Book Review

This second volume of letters ‘having bearing on my work’ elegantly compiles Samuel Beckett’s postwar correspondence. The often pleading, imploring frustration of a struggling Irishman trying to land a publisher for his poems and tales has faded. Postwar, Beckett returns to Paris and then goes away to Ussy-sur-Marne to confront himself–and to create his breakthrough prose and drama. Easing if not replacing the acerbic, dyspeptic tone of his youthful letters, he blends his unease into a mellower, if no less … Read more

Manchán Magan’s ‘Oddballs: A Novel of Affections’: Book Review

A skilled chronicler in travel narratives and documentaries of those who wander the fringes, Manchán Magan’s debut novel follows four characters on the fringe. Two of them, teenaged Rachel and her quasi-aunt Charlotte, collide after a long estrangement in New Hampshire, and take off on Charlotte’s Wiccan pilgrimage to ye olde England of, as a bemused or bitter Rachel puts it, ‘Merlin and Voldemort’. After a few detours, they wind up on a quasi-borrowed yacht that lands them off Co … Read more

Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr’s ‘Black Against Empire’: Book Review

Certainly, after the quick rise and repression of the Occupy Movement, this study on an earlier radical faction who advocated more violent urban occupation and resistance merits reflection. Joshua Bloom (UCLA) and Waldo E. Martin, Jr (UC Berkeley) collaborate to present a study which relies not on oral interviews or ‘retrospective accounts’ colored by bias or filtered through idealism, but a sober analysis. They base their work on five years of Bay Area archival research: first to assemble nearly all … Read more

Tim Robinson’s ‘Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom’: Book Review

While the last published of this trilogy, Robinson tells us first off that this is meant to be the second installment. It nestles into the southern Connemara coastline. This Cambridge-trained mathematician turned Connacht cartographer tracks down its traditional place names and wanders in the lore and the landscapes of these locales near his Roundstone residence the past thirty years. The Atlantic pounds these shores with only slightly less fury than on the Aran Islands, the chief of which marked his … Read more

Patrick McGinley’s ‘That Unearthly Valley: A Donegal Childhood’: Book Review

In Bogmail and Foggage, Patrick McGinley sent up the Irish (could he or it be otherwise?) murder mystery genre. He scooped dollops of encyclopaedic wit and mordant satire into these entertainments. A later saga proved more somber and meditative, the Black and Tan War ending as The Lost Soldier’s Song, while The Trick of the Ga Bolga updated a mythic showdown around his native village of Glencolmcille, on the blustery coast of Donegal. This novelist left the Glen for boarding … Read more

Kevin Myers’ ‘Watching the Door’: Book Review

This reads as if a mad picaresque tale. Myers as first a reporter for RTÉ and then as a freelance journalist with no real experience, finds himself wandering into savagery as he hastens north as the Troubles explode. A soldier dies next to him; he witnesses an IRA ambush; he sees children shot to death by snipers. The adjectives pile up: the conditions in 1970s Belfast lead to a life led as lies. ‘Insane, vile, ludicrous, preposterous’ characterise what happens … Read more