There’s an interesting piece in today’s Irish Times from Eileen Battersby, who (belatedly) leaps to the defence of those Irish authors traduced by Julian Gough’s assertion that our literary heroes are hopelessly out of touch with modern Ireland. That she does so without mentioning the words ‘Julian’ or ‘Gough’ is strange enough, but the fact that she answers the question ‘Do Irish writers engage with contemporary life or are they stuck in the past?’ without referring to a single Irish crime writer would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. Ms Battersby does mention John Banville’s alter-ego, Benjamin Black, albeit in order to laud his investigation of the past. And you can also include Eoin McNamee, if you’re willing to concede that THE BLUE TANGO, RESURRECTION MEN, 12:23 et al, are crime novels, which Ms Battersby doesn’t, and overlook the fact that McNamee writes thrillers under the pseudonym John Creed, which she does.
That said, how can the Irish Times’ literary correspondent answer the question of ‘Do Irish writers engage with contemporary life or are they stuck in the past?’ without citing the likes of Declan Hughes, Tana French, Brian McGilloway, Gene Kerrigan, et al? Even if she confined herself to literary authors – which Julian Gough did – then Adrian McKinty’s mischievous treatment of ULYSSES in THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD was surely worth a mention. But Ms Battersby is happy to include the chick-lit writers Sheila Flanagan and Cecilia Ahern, while ignoring the likes of Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND or Ken Bruen’s PRIEST. Meanwhile, and leaving aside the fact that the political entity of Northern Ireland is composed of six rather than nine counties, how can you praise David Park’s (very fine) novel THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER for engaging with ‘post-Good Friday Ulster’ and ignore Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE, which was recently nominated one of the best crime novels of the last year by the New York Times and the LA Times?
Now, it can be argued that I’m getting my knickers in a twist over nowt, because Ms Battersby is as entitled to her opinion as anyone, and you can’t please everyone, because the Irish literary landscape is teeming with contenders for ‘Most Relevant Chronicler of Our Times’. By the same token, Ms Battersby mentioned 58 writers, playwrights and poets, and didn’t find room for a single Irish crime writer bar Benjamin Black. And, given that the Irish Times is the paper of record, and that Ms Battersby is the paper’s literary correspondent, any tourist reading that piece in Dublin today would be entitled to conclude that Ireland is a most peculiar modern country in that it has no indigenous crime writers dealing with contemporary matters. As the government talks up an export-led recovery, Irish publishers with Irish crime writers on their books must be gnawing their knuckles with frustration.
It’s not as if Irish crime writing is hiding its light under a bushel. Or has it entirely escaped the notice of the Irish Times’ literary correspondent that Irish crime writing has its own category in the Irish Book Awards? Fintan O’Toole noticed. Meanwhile, Ms Battersby lauds Keith Ridgeway for nailing the Celtic Tiger phenomenon, and ignores the fact that Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan and Alan Glynn were last year already writing about the post-boom/bust Perhaps the article’s leading question should be rephrased as, ‘Do Irish literary correspondents engage with contemporary life or are they stuck in the past?’
Given that those 58 writers mentioned cover virtually every kind of fiction bar sci-fi and crime, the only conclusion to be drawn from Ms Battersby’s piece today is that Irish crime writers were omitted from her article on the basis of taste, ignorance or prejudice. Regardless of which it happens to be, and in the light of today’s farrago, very fine authors such as McGilloway, McKinty, Hughes, French, Neville, Bruen and Kerrigan, to name but a few, are surely entitled to ask: Is Eileen Battersby fit for purpose?
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.