Monday, June 23, 2014

Library Showcase: Out of Ireland

The savage loves his native shore,
Though rude the soil and chill the air;
Well then may Erin's sons adore
Their isle, which nature formed so fair!
What flood reflects a shore so sweet,
As Shannon great, or past'ral Bann?
Or who a friend or foe can meet,
As generous as an Irishman?

~James Orr, Irish poet (1770-1816)


Ireland is a very small country that has produced a very rich and dense body of writing. This month the Jessup library showcases Irish fiction. Come and take a bit o' the Isle home. (All descriptions are the publishers'). 

At Swim-Two-Birds
A wildly comic send-up of Irish literature and culture, At Swim-Two-Birds is the story of a young, lazy, and frequently drunk Irish college student who lives with his curmudgeonly uncle in Dublin. When not in bed (where he seems to spend most of his time) or reading he is composing a mischief-filled novel about Dermot Trellis, a second-rate author whose characters ultimately rebel against him and seek vengeance. From drugging him as he sleeps to dropping the ceiling on his head, these figures of Irish myth make Trellis pay dearly for his bad writing. Hilariously funny and inventive, At Swim-Two-Birds has influenced generations of writers, opening up new possibilities for what can be done in fiction. It is a true masterpiece of Irish literature.


Authenticity 
When painter Roderic Kennedy meets Julia Fitzpatrick, twenty years younger and also an artist, it seems as though a long spell of turbulence and misfortune--including alcoholism and a broken marriage--has finally come to an end. But when Julia has a chance meeting with a desperately unhappy stranger, this brief yet powerful encounter sets in motion a chain of events that has dramatic consequences for all three.

Brooklyn: a Novel
Ellis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Ellis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Ellis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Ellis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

Civil & Strange 
Eager to escape her failed marriage, Ellen hopes to recapture the magic of her childhood summers when she decides to leave Dublin for the small village of Ballindoon. She is surprised when her uncle Matt, a nearby farmer, welcomes her with the rather mystifying advice to play it "civil and strange," a local expression meaning "be polite on the surface but keep your distance" - and even more surprised to find herself attracting the attentions of a younger man. To Ellen's great wonder, as the events of this transformative, tumultuous year play out in all three of their lives, it becomes clear that even tradition-bound Ballindoon can allow for new beginnings. Anchored by the cadences of its Irish setting and the love story at its heart, "Civil & Strange" offers a moving exploration of the possibilities open to us, at any age, in any place, if only we are brave enough to embrace them.  

Down by the River
Fourteen-year-old Mary MacNamara does not know the words for what her father did to her down by the river, but she knows nothing will ever be the same again. She lives in a small town in the rural West of Ireland where superstition and petty jealousies fester; where poverty and ignorance make people hard, bitter, and unforgiving. Mary will find scant justice or mercy among those in her community--even less among those called to adjudicate upon her case in a city far away as her private tragedy is dragged into the public arena, making her doubly a victim, prey to militant factions on all sides. Recalling the controversial 1992 "Miss X" case which drew international attention and provoked a nationwide crisis of conscience within Ireland, Down by the River combines passionately held principle and rich, evocative language and imagery to transform a dark drama of violence and suppressed emotions into a work of art that is universal, cathartic, and sublime.
 
Dracula
 An apparently routine business venture becomes a battle for a young man’s very soul. Almost too late, Jonathan Harker realizes that the charismatic and seductive Count Dracula of Transylvania has come to England with a purpose much more sinister than merely to purchase an English estate. Will the Count succeed in his quest to create a race of blood-lusting creatures of the night? Which will prove the stronger—superstition or science?

Dubliners
Declared by their author to be a chapter in the moral history of Ireland, this collection of 15 tales offers vivid, tightly focused observations of the lives of Dublin's poorer classes. A fine and accessible introduction to the work of one of the 20th century's most influential writers, it includes a masterpiece of the short-story genre, "The Dead."

Felicia's Journey
Felicia is unmarried, pregnant, and penniless. She steals away from a small Irish town and drifts through the industrial English Midlands, searching for the boyfriend who left her. Instead she meets up with the fat, fiftyish, unfailingly reasonable Mr. Hilditch, who is looking for a new friend to join the five other girls in his Memory Lane. But the strange, sad, terrifying tricks of chance soon unravel both his and Felicia's delusions.

 The Gathering
The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him--something that happened in their grandmother's house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations, she shows how memories warp and secrets fester. The Gathering is a family epic, clarified through Anne Enright's unblinking eye. This is a novel about love and disappointment, about how fate is written in the body, not in the stars. The Gathering sends fresh blood through the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new. As in all of Anne Enright's work, this is a book of daring, wit, and insight, her distinctive intelligence twisting the world a fraction and giving it back to us in a new and unforgettable light.

Gulliver's Travels 
Gulliver sees life from many different perspectives during the course of his exciting voyages around the world. In Lilliput he is a giant among a race of little people only six inches high; in Brobdingnag he himself seems tiny compared to the giant inhabitants; and in the country of the Houyhnhnms, horses rule and the human creatures there have the status of animals. Life back in England seems very ordinary after all that he has seen.

Human Chain
Seamus Heaney's collection of poems elicits continuities and solidarities -- between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now -- inside an intently remembered present: the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered. "Human Chain" also broaches larger questions of transmission, of lifelines to the inherited past. There are newly minted versions of anonymous early Irish lyrics. "Human Chain" also includes a poetic "herbal" adapted from the Breton poet Eugène Guillevic -- lyrics as delicate as ferns, which puzzle briefly over the world of things, and landscapes that exclude human speech while affirming the interconnectedness of phenomena, as of a self-sufficiency in which we too are included.

The Importance of Being Earnest 
Oscar Wilde's most brilliant tour de force, a witty and buoyant comedy of manners that has delighted millions in countless productions since its first performance in London's St. James' Theatre on February 14, 1895. The Importance of Being Earnest is celebrated not only for the lighthearted ingenuity of its plot, but for its inspired dialogue, rich with scintillating epigrams still savored by all who enjoy artful conversation.

Ireland: a Novel  
One wintry evening in 1951, an itinerant storyteller--a Seanchai, the very last practitioner of a fabled tradition extending back hundreds of years--arrives unannounced at a house in the Irish countryside. In exchange for a bed and a warm meal, he invites his hosts and some of their neighbors to join him by the fireside, and begins to tell formative stories of Ireland’s history. One of his listeners, a nine-year-old boy, grows so entranced by the story-telling that, when the old man leaves abruptly under mysterious circumstances, the boy devotes himself to finding him again. Ronan’s search for the Storyteller becomes both a journey of self-discovery and an immersion into the sometimes-conflicting histories of his native land.
The Master: a Novel 
Like Michael Cunningham in The Hours, Colm Tóibín captures the extraordinary mind and heart of a great writer. Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of a man born into one of America's first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers. In stunningly resonant prose, Tóibín captures the loneliness and the hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed those he tried to love. The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting. 


Mothers and Sons: Stories
 Each of the nine stories in this beautifully written, intensely intimate collection centers on a transformative moment that alters the delicate balance of power between mother and son, or changes the way they perceive one another. With exquisite grace and eloquence, Tóibín writes of men and women bound by convention, by unspoken emotions, by the stronghold of the past. Many are trapped in lives they would not choose again, if they ever chose at all. A man buries his mother and converts his grief to desire in one night. A famous singer captivates an audience, yet cannot beguile her own estranged son. And in "A Long Winter," Colm Tóibín's finest piece of cction to date, a young man searches for his mother in the snow-covered mountains where she has sought escape from the husband who controls and confines her. Haunting and profoundly moving.

My Dream of You 
Kathleen de Burca is a travel writer based in London. The office is the nearest thing she has to a home, and her colleagues to friends and a family. And then a quick series of blows strips away the props of her life, revealing the painful cost of her refugee existence, and she is faced with the frightening imperative of change. 

Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha 
It is 1968. Patrick Clarke is ten. He loves Geronimo, the Three Stooges, and the smell of his hot water bottle. He can't stand his little brother Sinbad. His best friend is Kevin, and their names are all over Barrytown, written with sticks in wet cement. They play football, lepers, and jumping to the bottom of the sea. But why didn't anyone help him when Charles Leavy had been going to kill him? Why do his ma and da argue so much, but act like everything is fine? Paddy sees everything, but he understands less and less. Hilarious and poignant, "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" charts the triumphs, indignities, and bewilderment of a young boy and his world, a place full of warmth, cruelty, confusion, and love.

Ulysses  
James Joyce's Ulysses chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, 16 June 1904.The title alludes to Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey, and establishes a series of parallels between characters and events in Homer's poem and Joyce's novel.

Waiting for Godot: a Tragicomedy in Two Acts 
Waiting for Godot has become of the most important and enigmatic plays of the past fifty years and a cornerstone of twentieth-century drama. The story revolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone—or something—named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree, inhabiting a drama spun of their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay of poetry, dreamscapes, and nonsense, which has been interpreted as mankind’s inexhaustible search for meaning. Beckett’s language pioneered an expressionistic minimalism that captured the existential post-World War II Europe. His play remains one of the most magical and beautiful allegories of our time.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors 
Paula Spencer is a thirty-nine-year-old working-class woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. Paula recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her feeling powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Roddy Doyle gives Paula a voice that is real and unforgettable.

Yesterday's Weather 
In "Yesterday's Weather," Anne Enright presents a series of deeply moving glimpses into the lives of ordinary men and women struggling with the bonds of love, family, and community in an increasingly disconnected and transient world. The stories in "Yesterday's Weather" shows us a rapidly changing Ireland, a land of family and tradition, but also, increasingly, of organic radicchio, cruise-ship vacations, and casual betrayals. Sharp, tender, never predictable, their sum is a rich tapestry of people struggling to find contentment with one another -- and with themselves. The unsettling, carefully drawn reality, the subversive wit, and the awkward tenderness of these stories mark Anne Enright as one of the most thrillingly gifted writers of our time.