Arts

Book Reviews: Kevin Curran demythologises 1916 history

Balbriggan author Kevin Curran whose second novel Citizens subtly interrogates how we view 1916
 

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Citizens by Kevin Curran, published by Liberties Press

IN A year when the political difficulties of remembrance loom large in public consciousness, one of the greatest achievements of Kevin Curran's second novel, Citizens, is it's careful demythologisation of history.

The book follows Neil – aimless, self-involved, obsessed with image and wealth, (at first glance a stereotypical millennial) – as he delves into his family history and, inadvertently, the history of Ireland. Bequeathed the memoirs of his great-grandfather, Harry Casey, an aspiring film-maker and Volunteer in 1916's Easter Rising, Neil is forced to confront a heritage he would sooner dismiss.

Curran makes some astute observations about the personal costs of societal change. Like Harry's artistic endeavours, the writer's dual-era portrait of Dublin is cinematic in scope. Curran couples a close attention to detail with an overarching, subtle interrogation of the narratives nations are founded upon, lightened with a sharp wit. In a moving climactic scene, Neil traces his great-grandfather's steps through a war-torn city: before our eyes, O'Connell Street is transformed into a boulevard of broken dreams.

Tara McEvoy

 

The Noise Of Time by Julian Barnes, published in hardback by Jonathan Cape

The first novel from Barnes, author of Flaubert's Parrot and A History Of The World in 10 1/2 chapters, since he won the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for The Sense Of An Ending, this is essentially a novelisation of the life of Dmitri Shostakovich.

The composer is doomed to live and work under Stalin and his successors, first in fear for his life and then in guilty shame at the enforced compromises that have secured not just his survival, but his canonisation by a regime he despises.

In seeking to avoid denunciation, his only defences are evasion, irony and the double-edged gift of his extraordinary musical ability.

Barnes pulls together all the strands of this meticulously imagined portrait into a powerful study of the 'complexities of life under tyranny'. It is masterfully done, but so dark is the world he draws on that it is hard to share the optimism of his final scene, in which he seems to suggest that art can somehow transcend fear and 'unwarranted death'.

Dan Brotzel

 

Irish Bitches Be Crazy by Emma Comerford, published by New Island Books

FOR such a controversial title, Emma Comerford's book doesn't go very far in pushing the boundaries of Irish conservatism. Perhaps the fear that the nuns distilled in her at school prevented her from calling out how the Irish state used to treat women it deemed crazy, or perhaps her publishers were the ones scared of printing anything too radical.

Comerford's tales of being a young adult during the Celtic Tiger years are amusing with some genuine laugh-out-loud-funny moments. The use of fake tan and every Irish woman's need for a good funeral coat was written warmly and captured a glimpse of 21st century Ireland.

Overall though, there isn't enough being looked at. There is no discourse on what being Irish is – no mention of the border, very little about immigration. There is no looking at the Eighth Amendment. But there is a lot of celebrating the Yes vote to same sex marriage.

Emma Gallen

 

disUNITY by Anatoly Kudryavitsky, published by Glagoslav Publications

RUSSIAN-born, Irish resident Anatoly Kudryavitsky draws on the themes of exile and identity in this pair of novels. The writing is surreal, the prose poetic, the stories driven by the layering of images and themes.

But then straightforward narrative does not lend itself to the otherworldliness of Kudryavitsky’s fiction which is informed by Russian magic realism, a dose of Kafkaesque terror, Philip K Dickian science fiction and a bit of Celtic Twilight.

Shadowplay on a Sunless Day opens in a violent Moscow of police corruption and gang killings, shifts to the Germany of exiles and transient refugees, before a reality shift into the otherworldliness of the Tuatha De Danann.

The writing and narrative are highly stylised, but themes of shifting identity and alienation are never far from the surface.

A Parade of Mirrors and Reflection, is more overtly science fiction in tone as a clone struggles to come to terms with its identity in a Belarus city inhabited by its doppelgangers. Often comic but with a distinctly sinister subtext.

Tony Bailie

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