Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Putting The Ire Into Ireland

Yesterday the Guardian picked up on a rather fine rant by Julian Gough (right) on the state of Irish letters, in which the Berlin-based scribe put the boot into the current generation of Irish writers for not engaging with modern Ireland. The gist runneth thusly:
“I hardly read Irish writers any more, I’ve been disappointed so often. I mean, what the FECK are writers in their 20s and 30s doing, copying the very great John McGahern, his style, his subject matter, in the 21st century? To revive a useful old Celtic literary-critical expression: I puke my ring. And the older, more sophisticated Irish writers that want to be Nabokov give me the yellow squirts and a scaldy hole …
“The role of the Irish writer is not really to win prizes in Ireland; their role historically has been to get kicked out of the country for telling the truth. And there’s not quite enough of that going on. Just when we need a furious army of novelists, we are getting fairly polite stuff published by Faber & Faber that fits into the grand tradition … At the moment Ireland has one, massively developed, lyrical realism arm which is all biceps, and the other arm, the odd, freaky, tattooed arm, needs to be built up. In a way I’m trying to rally a few young writers around a flag which hasn’t been waved in a while. You can’t save the world with a novel, but it can put a tiny featherweight on the scales.”
  Ach, Julian, get down off the fence and say what you mean, squire.
  For the full and delightfully bilious rant, clickety-click here. For the reaction of various Irish writers, including John Banville and Sebastian Barry, clickety-click here.
  If you want to give Julian an even scaldier hole for overlooking the horde of Irish crime writers currently putting the ire into Ireland, or if you don’t believe that crime fiction is entitled to consider itself part of Irish literature, the comment box is open for business ...

  This week I have been mostly reading: SICILIAN CAROUSEL by Lawrence Durrell; THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare; and CLOUD ATLAS by David Mitchell.


Michael Malone said...

I'm certainly not an expert in the state of writing coming from Ireland - and I do enjoy a delightfully bilious rant as much as the next man, but it seems to me that all these commentators are missing one thing. The modern Ireland that is being recorded in its excellent crime writing. But isn't that the lot of the genre be ignored by all of these "serious" writers.

Julian said...

Oddly enough, I agree with you Dec. And I think Ken Bruen has caught modern Galway better than anyone. So why didn't I mention him, and the other great Irish crime writers?

I'd better explain: that rant came about when Dalkey Archive, a very good but very literary, university-based publisher, asked me a few questions about the state of Irish writing, and about overlooked or neglected writers. They were clearly interested in self-consciously "literary" writers, and my answers were purely addressed to those.

Since the Guardian picked up on my original rant (and then Twitter, and the blogs), it's gone off on a rampage around the internet, and is being read outside the small and impoverished literary ghetto it was originally written for. So, apologies - if I'd known it'd be in the papers I'd have probably written a whole other piece...

If it's any consolation, I am also getting stick for not including chick-lit writers, Young Adult writers, children's books, and memoirs!

Declan Burke said...

Michael -

I don't buy into this idea that 'genre' writers aren't taken seriously by the literary establishment on the basis that they're 'genre' writers. Most of them aren't taken seriously simply because they're not good writers. Murder is a very serious business, but the fact that you're writing about murder doesn't automatically make you a serious writer.

The mediocre 'genre' writer's mantra - "plot, character, pace" - ignores what is for me the most important aspect of a good novel, which is a facility for language. Yes, you need a good plot, intriguing characters and well-timed pacing - but if it's not well written, then I find it hard to care.

Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

Julian -

Context is all, squire; ta for that.

That said, I don't think it's a good thing that we're dividing up books into categories. I campaigned a couple of years ago for crime fiction to be given its own category in the Irish Book Awards; now I regret that I did. A good book is a good book is a good book, and it should sink or swim on its own merits.

I make no bones about saying that the best of the Irish crime writers are writing novels as good, and arguably more relevant, as anything produced by their literary peers in the last five years or so.

Cheers, Dec

Michael Malone said...

Spot on, Dec. I couldn't agree with you more about the language thing. It's the writers who pay closer attention to which words they use that get my hard-earned.

And good man Julian for coming in and adding some context.

Peter Rozovsky said...

"The mediocre 'genre' writer's mantra - "plot, character, pace" - ignores what is for me the most important aspect of a good novel, which is a facility for language."

Now, that was good to read. I just wish I didn't feel like a bit of a weenie every time I praised a crime novel's "prose style."

Over in my little international corner of the crime fiction world, discussions gravitate toward sociology. Those American newspapers that cover crime fiction regularly (I hear that there are some) will ask what makes, say, Scandinavian crime writing popular without considering that the answer may be good Scandinavian crime writers.

I am pleased to make Julian's acquaintance. A level-headed ranter -- we need more such.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

seana said...

It's funny, but everyone seems to be down on lyrical writers of realism right now. Frankly, I'd take more writers with lyrical gifts if I could find them.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

It's a sentiment I've heard elsewhere. There is an Irish novel that I want to read but haven't ordered yet called Skippy Dies. I was reading a blog review of it and that person said that they were glad to see an Irish novelist finally writing about modern Ireland. In the comments section I kindly suggested that there are crime writers doing just that. My comment went into moderation and still hasn't appeared. Three weeks later.