Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Spring Cleaning Gone Too Far?

13 April 2011

By Christina Morin

With a visit from my parents fast approaching, I spent much of this weekend engaged in that age-old activity prompted by the thought of mum coming to town: cleaning. In fact, I spring-cleaned the house, deciding that this visit of my super-clean, totally uncluttered mom was the perfect time to scrub the floorboards, tidy the under stairs cupboard, and generally de-clutter the place from a year’s worth of accumulated stuff. As I hoovered, dusted, and scrubbed, I thought about the extreme act of de-cluttering performed by Stuart Walton, who, in a piece for The Guardian on 9 April, spoke of ‘laborious[ly] disburdening’ himself of the vast majority of his considerable collection of books. While moving house, Walton was inspired to donate most of his 2,000 odd books to charity shops, in what was obviously a painful but, it seems, ultimately liberating experience for him. As Walton correctly observes, ‘we develop bonds of intellectual and emotional affection to books, which makes the act of disposing of them seem like wanton ingratitude’; yet, he doesn’t record any regrets about his decision to offload his library. Rather the opposite, in fact, Walton questions the need and desire to keep books in the first place now that we have firmly entered the digital age: ‘space is at a premium and limitless quantities of literature, music and film can be stored digitally [… so] [w]hy keep a hard copy?’. Now in his new, almost book-free house, Walton follows a strict policy of ‘buy, read, flog on Amazon Marketplace’. Read more

Further Adventures in Eighteenth-Century Fiction

11 April 2011

By Christina Morin

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts on my favourite eighteenth-century Irish fiction, so I thought I’d offer a few more suggestions. Given the nature of my current research (a project called ‘The Gothic Novel in Ireland, 1760-1830’), I’ve been reading extensively in Irish Gothic fiction from the mid- to late-eighteenth century. As a result, my recommendations are drawn from this recent reading of now overlooked but no less interesting fiction. Unfortunately, these texts are so rare today as not to be available in modern editions – so you won’t be able to head out into the sunshine we’re having for a lazy though potentially sublime afternoon. That is, of course, unless you have a laptop, wifi, and remote access to Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). Be that as it may, these are fascinating examples of eighteenth-century Irish literary production, all of which point to the need to re-assess current perspectives on Irish fiction of the period and its important contribution to the contemporary rise of Gothic fiction. So, without further ado….

  1. The Adventures of Miss Sophia Berkley (1760) by ‘A Young Lady’ has been identified in recent years as a Gothic novel predating Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) – the text now generally understood as the ‘first’ British Gothic novel. Set initially in Ireland, the novel follows the eponymous heroine as she meets and falls in love with the son of an ancient Irish family. On the eve of their marriage, however, Horatio is killed and taken away by pirates near Sophia’s coastal home, and she is left distraught. Worse is yet to come, however, when her father, falling fatally ill, reveals that his affairs are horribly compromised. Upon her father’s death, Sophia emigrates to London, where she endures a series of unfortunate mishaps, abductions, and daring escapes before….  Well, I won’t spoil the plot for you. Suffice it to say, there is a happy ending, but perhaps not the one you might expect. Only one volume long, The Adventures of Miss Sophia Berkley won’t require too much investment on your part and is well worth the read! Read more

At-Swim-Two-Birds at the Project Arts Centre

28 February 2011

Contributed by Eoghan Smith

2011 is the centenary year of Brian O’Nolan’s birth. Better known as Flann O’Brien, his work represents the last great rebellion of Irish modernism before the naturalist mysticism of Patrick Kavanagh, John McGahern and Seamus Heaney suppressed the comic element in Irish writing. Along with The Third Policeman (1967), At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) is the last outpost on the border between the radical ambition of the Irish modernism, and the introverted helplessness of much of post-war Irish literature. After reading O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, James Joyce famously said, ‘that’s a real writer, with the true comic spirit’.

Jocelyn Clarke’s adaption of At Swim-Two-Birds for Blue Raincoat Theatre Company is a brilliantly conceived rendition of the true lower-middle class comic voice of O’Brien’s labyrinthine meta-novel. Recounting the tale of a writer who is writing a novel, who then loses control of his characters, At Swim is a riotous affair in which the conventions of storytelling are pressurized until they almost explode. Read more

Review: Shadow of the Brotherhood: the Temple Bar Shootings

10 January 2011

Contributed by Ciaran Wallace

Barry Kennerk’s book deals with the events of October 31st, 1867 when Fenians shot two policemen on Dublin’s Temple Bar. The author uses this as the starting point for an investigation into Dublin’s Victorian underworld. Like the detectives whom he describes, Kennerk delves into the secret world of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), informers, prostitutes and beggars. He goes further however, leading the reader on a fascinating journey through the city’s medical, legal and political establishment.

The central ‘whodunit?’ is followed in painstaking detail, from minute descriptions of attackers, victims and witnesses, to the lighting arrangements in the courtroom. Indeed such is the evident depth of detail that one wonders whether presenting the story as an historical novel would have done greater justice to the extensive research and the writer’s apparent flair for mood and atmosphere.

The streets come alive in many parts of the book. Dublin’s tightly-packed and gossipy citizenry follow the shooting, and ensuing investigation and trial, with enthusiastic interest. Read more

Fire up the Kindle

16 December 2010

By Christina Morin

As the proud owner of a month-old Kindle – the sleek wireless reading gadget sold by Amazon – I feel like I’ve become a spokesperson of sorts. Any more talk of my new toy and how wonderful it is, and I suspect people will think I’m on the payroll. I’m not, of course, but I am seriously, if somewhat unexpectedly, happy with my Kindle. After writing in October about how much I love and prefer good old pen and paper to more recent technologies, I felt quietly determined not to like the Kindle as much as the real thing. As it would happen, however, I received my Kindle as a gift just before setting off on holiday, and the novelty of being able to download, store, and carry around more novels than I could possibly read over my two-week holiday quickly broke down my reserve. The one quibble I had at this stage was the price of these digital books. As I mentioned in my recommendations for December, the ‘classics’ are very cheap – literally pennies – but more recent releases sell for approximately the same as they do in Easons or Hodges and Figgis. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at this – downloading music on iTunes isn’t significantly cheaper than buying a cd, for instance – but I was, not least because of the apparent lack of the object, the book itself, when once downloaded. Technically, after downloading a given text, you own it just as much as you do a hard- or softback, and you can store it almost indefinitely on your Kindle for future reference. Nevertheless, there’s nothing to put on your bookshelf, no actual object to hold or put your name in, which is undeniably one of the attractions, at least in my mind, of books, even if I’m constantly wondering where to put them all. Read more

Victorian Treasures

13 December 2010

By Christina Morin

Last month, I decided to take a little holiday to Australia to celebrate the submission of my manuscript and to coincide with a significant event in a friend’s life (to be celebrated, naturally, in Australia). My all-too-brief trip took me from sunny Sydney to the vineyards and breathtaking views along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to Melbourne city – the so-called ‘Paris of Australia’. Although the purpose of my trip was as far from academic as possible, I couldn’t resist paying a little visit to the State Library of Victoria in central Melbourne. An impressive colonial building with reading rooms to rival the best I’ve ever seen, the State Library of Victoria is open to the public, allowing interested tourists like me free access to the library building, its Dome viewing platform, free exhibitions, and even some of its holdings.

I didn’t have anything specific I was interested in reading or consulting, so, after stashing my bag in a locker, I meandered around, soaking up the atmosphere, availing myself of various amenities, including free internet access, and checking in on the chess games quietly being played in a dedicated area of the library. That done, I had a trawl through the extensive online catalogue, searching for a few things related to a new project I have brewing in my head (before even my last or current one is finished!). My scrawled notes in hand, I headed to the La Trobe Reading Room – a fantastic, light-filled, heptagonal room with amazing soaring ceilings. (Pictured above.) Read more

Ireland’s Renegade Women

9 December 2010

 Contributed by Marnie Hay

Searching for a Christmas gift for someone with an interest in Irish women’s history or the republican movement? Look no further than Ann Matthews’ Renegades: Irish Republican Women, 1900-1922 (Cork: Mercier Press, 2010). Priced at €19.99, this highly readable paperback would make a great stocking stuffer.

In Renegades, Matthews examines the role played by women in the political and social revolutions that occurred in Ireland in the early twentieth century. She sets the scene with a discussion of the foundation laid by Fenian women and the Ladies Land League before turning to the main event: the contributions made by women to the advanced nationalist / republican movement between 1900 and 1922. Matthews refuses to allow those notorious scene stealers Maud Gonne and Countess Constance de Markievicz to hog the limelight and instead illuminates the work of the many unknown or lesser known women who made the fight for Irish freedom possible. She covers the contributions of everyone from veteran political activist Jennie Wyse Power (1858-1941) to May McLoughlin, the 15-year-old Clan na Gael girl scout who served as a messenger during the 1916 Rising. In many ways Renegades builds on and revises Margaret Ward’s 1989 classic Unmanageable revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism. Read more

Review of Michael Sheridan’s, Murder at Shandy Hall: The Coachford Poisoning Case

27 October 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

In Murder at Shandy Hall Michael Sheridan (journalist and author of Death in December and Frozen Blood: Serial Killers in Ireland) pieces together a murder which took place in 1887 of a wife, Mary Laura Cross, and the subsequent trial of her arsenic poisoner husband Dr Philip Cross. The nineteenth century was a golden time for poisoners. Arsenic, which has no smell or taste is incredibly difficult to detect in food and drink, was the poison of choice. I am a big fan of Kate Summerscale’s historic crime investigation The Suspicions of Mr Whicher so I jumped at the chance to review this and learn a bit more about Irish criminal cases in the nineteenth century.

A quick summary of the case is this: In the early morning of 2nd of June 1887 Mary Laura Cross died after several months of illness. Read more

Review: Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves

22 October 2010

By Christina Morin

As I sat waiting in the Garda National Immigration Bureau the other day – my yearly punishment for not being Irish – I decided to do a little light reading. The book I had to hand was The Swan Thieves (2010), by Elizabeth Kostova. I had picked it up a while back during one book sale or another, knowing very little about it except that I loved Kostova’s 2006 novel, The Historian. Within the first few pages, I was hooked and found myself in a rather exhilarating state of immersion in a fictional world. I just didn’t want to put the book down! A good sign, I always think, and a credit to the author’s ability to create a fantasy world that is at once mundane and extraordinary. What I particularly liked about The Historian and again with The Swan Thieves is the way in which Kostova weaves together distinctly separate but also intrinsically linked historical narratives – one present day, and one nineteenth century or earlier. While The Historian told a chilling tale of tracking the real life (er… real living dead) Dracula in twenty-first century London and Budapest, The Swan Thieves narrates the strange obsession of gifted painter Robert Oliver with a dead Impressionist artist he neither knew nor had any connection to. Read more

Review: On deep history and the brain by Daniel Lord Smail

18 October 2010

By Juliana Adelman

When I was in college I took one class in paleoanthropology taught by Professor Richard Klein.  Klein was rather singular in appearance and, much more than my science professors, was exactly what I had imagined a university professor to look and speak like.  His subject was awe inspiring in its breadth and, in my mind, importance.  Listening to him talk about extinct hominid (hominin) lineages felt as weighty to me as an inspired Sunday sermon might feel to others.  For reasons I cannot pinpoint at this remove, I did not pursue paleoanthropology beyond that single course though it has remained something that I am curious about.

Smail’s explanation for his interest in the deep past is personal.  His father, also a historian, taught a course on the ‘Natural History of Man’, which Smail emulated nearly thirty years later.  A historian of medieval Europe by trade, Smail ranges across tens of thousands of years in On deep history and argues for the continuity between prehistory and history and particularly between paleolithic and postlithic humans.  His reasons for suggesting this continuity are compelling and simple: written records do not define history, it is evident that ancient humans had forms of culture, any boundary we draw between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is arbitrarily imposed and finally that human culture has a real relationship with the human body.  It is this final suggestion, not original to Smail, that forms the basis of a new kind of history which he suggests can be applied to all periods: neurohistory.  Neurohistory examines the reciprocal relationships between the ‘brain-body system’ and culture. Read More