Wilde thing, you make my heart Synge
Published on 27th March 2013
April is the month for Dublin City Council’s One City, One Book initiative – this year it’s Joseph Plunkett’s Strumpet City. This campaign drums up a huge amount of interest in its chosen book each year, and by extension in Irish literature generally; so if you enjoy each year’s nomination, keep the momentum going, and try other Irish authors: there are hundreds to choose from, so here’s a small selection of both classic and modern to whet your appetite.
Oscar Wilde (2010's 1C1B choice) has a huge range of works to choose from – poetry, plays, stories, fables, essays - and you can find them all in the Collins complete works of Oscar Wilde. This also includes lots of photos and background information, including contributions from Wilde’s grandson.
J. M. Synge’s plays are widely regarded as classics of Irish literature. Synge’s detached and realistic portrayals of the Irish peasantry jarred with the romantic attitudes of his time, to the point where the Abbey’s production of The playboy of the western world provoked riots and had to be acted with police protecting the cast. Check out Playboy and his other works in Synge: the complete plays.
Roddy Doyle is well on his way to becoming a living legend among Irish authors. His best known work is probably The Barrytown trilogy – The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van – all really well-written and with Doyle’s trademark humour and empathy. My own favourite, though, is Paddy Clarke ha ha ha, not least for its descriptions of Dubliners settling into the brand-new suburbs of the sixties.
Brinsley MacNamara’s The valley of the squinting windows evokes the stifling, suffocating atmosphere of rural Ireland of the early 20th century. Like Synge’s Playboy, this too provoked a furious reaction on publication, as people from MacNamara’s hometown recognised themselves, and sued for libel: copies of the book were rounded up and burnt. Without this reaction, the book may well have been forgotten by now, which goes to show there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Edna O’Brien’s The country girls is the story of Cait and Baba’s coming of age in the sixties, and moving from rural Ireland to the big smoke of Dublin. This is another book that didn’t go down well on publication, because of its themes of sexuality and repression, and was in fact received so badly that O’Brien was effectively hounded out of the country. Like many Irish writers, O’Brien was instrumental in changing people’s awareness of their repressive culture and customs.
For short stories, try The ballroom of romance and other stories by William Trevor, internationally-acclaimed and the recipient of many awards. His ability to bring to life a multitude of different personalities is incredible. His writing’s not easy to describe without resorting to clichés, so I’ll just say he’s a wonderful writer: try him out!
Relative newcomer Paul Murray is already proving himself with the magnificent Skippy dies – proof, if you needed any, that nobody in their right mind would want to be a teenager again. This is a pretty long read, but it’s so well-written and thought-provoking that you won’t want to put it down.