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.

“A view from Kerry” blog

April 14, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010, connections

Great to find “A View From Kerry“. There is a lovely provocative piece called “Listowel Writers Wrong” here.

Do you expect the Festival to present itself as if it was professionally run? Or do you find it charming when the spelling is wrong? Does it make a difference that the Festival is organised by volunteers? Or would it be better to expect volunteers to get it right?

You can even follow the publisher on Twitter @kerryview

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