Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

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Guest Post by “A View From Kerry”

June 03, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010

Sentimentality doesn’t win at Listowel

This being an unusually hot day I sit in the shade of the Half-Way bar, half-way(ish) between Listowel and Tralee. This being Listowel Writers’ Week I sit a few kilometres from the festival where the winner of the Irish Fiction Award will be announced. I’ve been dreading this moment. Not ‘Let the Great World Spin’ (LTGWS) please, although I note that the prize is not called the ‘Best Irish Fiction’.

First of all, I must state that I own a signed (by the author, not by me) first edition of the book, and that no-one will borrow it – or any of my books come to that. So at least I show one of my failings.

The entire LTGWS is shot through with sentimental writing – a pair of Irish brothers whose father leaves the family home at an early stage, the poor mother dying of cancer, the girl with a concience, the prositutes with a heart of gold, the jewish judge and his wife who mourns her son lost to war and on and on and on. There is also the unnamed tightrope walker tip-toeing between the great World Trade Towers back in the 1970′s.

Enough already, as Colum would write.

It is always a bit pernickity to find fault in a book because of historical details, but if the author wishes to establish some credibility then surely a bit of accuracy is called for. Within the first few pages of the book we are informed that the boys grew up in Sandymount on Dublin Bay in the mid-1950′s. On weekend mornings the brothers walked with their mother on the beach where “Two enormous red and white power station chimneys broke the horizon to the east” (p12). I am a child of fifties Dublin and I thought those chimneys were not built until the early 1970′s. I checked, I’m right. If I’m wrong tell me, I’ll delete the post.

But that does not damn a book.

Every so often Colum (should I now start writing Mr. McCann?) can’t resist relieving himself of some witticism; a “hospital that looked like it need a hospital“, “Miro, Miro on the wall“. At other times Mr. McCann employs sledgehammer, if not a pneumatic drill, to ram home some point he wishes to make. Just one example of this is where he takes three-quarters of a page to descibe death by many means – death by this, death by that. Or, as he himself sums up the list ” A stupid, endless menu of death“. Quite. I was reminded (unfavourably) of Martin Amis and his page of ‘fuck’ in ‘Success’ (1978).

Ulitimately I found the book to be full of sentimentality, and Irish sentimentality at that. The device of the tight-rope walker and the Twin Towers is very flimsy. There is the air of a movie script about the whole thing.

Enough already.


Great thanks to @KerryView for this blogpost, first published here.

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