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Socialist Review, November 1993

Kevin Orr


Another country

From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Soho Square 6 – New Writing From Ireland
ed. Colm Toibin
Bloomsbury £13.99

The outpouring of Irish literature that started in the late 1960s seems to be continuing unabated. Some of the most vibrant work written in English is still coming out of a country with a population, both North and South, of around half that of London.

In this anthology Colm Toibin, himself one of the best of these emerging writers, has collected together poems, short stories, essays and extracts from novels and screenplays that point to the rich diversity of contemporary Irish writing, whilst also showing that it has no single tradition other than, as Dermot Bolger has put it, ‘generally using the English language far better than anybody else’.

There are excellent pieces from lesser known writers, especially women (one of the strengths of this collection), such as Mary Beckett.

Neil Jordan, whose films include Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, has an article about the unreality of Hollywood. ‘I drive a convertible car with the hood down. The hood is down because I don’t know how to get it up.’ But writing from and about the North is less well covered, with the exception of Michael Longley’s poems and Eoin McNamee’s chilling story of sectarian attacks in Belfast.

The writers deal with topics well beyond the immediately Irish, but if there is a picture that emerges of Ireland today it is one that is far from the postcard images of donkeys and turf piles, something that is starkly reinforced by Tony O’Shea’s photographs of his father in his final years. With around half the population of Ireland under 25 and rather more than half living in the city this generation lives in a very different country to their parents.

The new writing, while not necessarily reflecting that change, is a product of it. Unfortunately this anthology somehow fails to grasp this and therefore fails to give a general representation of what is happening in Irish literature.

In contrast Dermot Bolger’s recent anthology – The Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction – was able to do exactly this, making his a much better book for the money.

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