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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Identity? Mine’s knottier than yours

Richard Bourke

If one wanted to write a contemporary comic novel about Irish academia the action would surely have to take place at an Irish Studies conference, somewhere off the island, and the big intellectual beasts would tussle over Irish ‘identity’ – a concept they all without exception love. But what does it mean?


Buying Consent

Ivana Bacik

Those who call for the legalisation and normalisation of what they call ‘sex work’ fail to understand the fundamental problem with prostitution. It is not work like any other kind. It is an exploitative institution that harms the women engaged in it and more generally hinders the building of gender equality.


Ding Dong, the Witch Might Be Dead

Alena Dvorakova

The Testaments is undeniably a testament to Margaret Atwood’s literary mastery. She has produced the modern equivalent of a traditional fairy tale – a young adult fantasy – but one that is beautifully written, cleverly plotted and only rarely suffers from didacticism. One might wonder, however, if it is entirely proper for a young rebel to believe in fairy tales.


The Glimmer

Martin Tyrrell

Nineteen Eighty-Four ends with the total defeat of its rebellious protagonist Winston Smith. Or so it seems. But if the victory of the Party seemed final in 1984, who could it have been who wrote (in ‘oldspeak’) the book’s appendix, dated 2050, entitled ‘The Principles of Newspeak’?


A Penny for their Thoughts

Maurice Earls

The liberal ‘Dublin Penny Journal’ and the conservative ‘Dublin University Magazine’, both published in the early 1830s, can be seen as Protestant responses to Catholic Emancipation, the responses of a group by no means ready to give up its ambition to control the Irish future.


Catching Up

Patricia Craig

For decades, Northern Ireland politics meant little more than the struggle between Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists. Since the guns have gone silent it has become clear that a new transformation is taking place, and it’s not the one the paramilitaries fought and killed for.


Beneath the Surface

Deirdre Ní Chuanacháin

Sherwood Anderson credited his mother with awakening his curiosity about what lay behind the facade of apparently ordinary lives in small-town America. When his masterpiece, ‘Winesburg, Ohio’, was published he was castigated as an ‘opener of sewers’; in his home town library the book was kept in a locked cupboard.


A Dream of Justice

Ian Doherty

Seamus Mallon was a leading nationalist politician for over thirty years. But perhaps the most singular aspect of his career was his very deliberate and visible solidarity with his Protestant neighbours during the worst of times. Now, as an old man, he hopes he may have helped plant trees in whose shadow others will sit.


A Beautiful Human Being

Patrick Quigley

When Poland was invaded in September 1939, the painter Jósef Czapski joined the cavalry reserve. Captured by the Russians, he escaped the fate of the officers murdered at Katyń and survived the camps, diverting his fellow prisoners with lectures on Proust reconstructed from his own memory.


Becoming One of Us

Martin Maguire

The population of a state can be expressed in terms of nationality and in terms of citizenship. Nationality is a sense of collective identity embracing past and future. It is a social and historical construct. Citizenship, however, is exclusively defined by the state as a matter of policy.


The hegemony of history

Johnny Lyons

Quentin Skinner’s most significant contribution to the history of ideas was his insistence that canonical texts do not stand outside history proposing universal and ‘ageless’ truths. They must rather be understood in the context of their publication. But does that mean they have little to say to us today?


Not So Insular

Rory McTurk

Geoffrey Chaucer chose to write in English rather than French or Latin and is honoured as ‘the Father of English Literature’. Nevertheless his culture was a broadly European one and his career involved much European travel. Did he also visit Ireland and might Gaelic literature have been an influence?


This Darling Tree

Brandon C Yen

Pictorial art is more obviously mediated than poetry is. It must engage with physicality, grapple with the varying textures, densities and shapes of tangible media, as well as the unique propensities of each available painterly tool. But like pigments, words too have physical qualities.


Alarms and Excursions

Sean Sheehan

John Ruskin may be little known today, but his warnings about the effects of industrial pollution in the Victorian age still read well, while his writings and observations on art on his trips to Italy, and particularly Venice and Padua, have been hugely influential.


The Valley Has Decided

Farrel Corcoran

Big tech sees a future in which ‘applied utopistics’ will monitor, and monetise, every human activity. With their deep pockets and considerable political clout, nothing will stand in their way, not governments or regulators, and certainly not any old-fashioned notions of privacy or human dignity.


The Thieves’ International

Sean Byrne

Corruption indices which place countries like the UK and Luxembourg near the virtuous top while Uzbekistan and South Sudan are at the bottom are misleading. It is the financial and legal systems of the UK and Luxembourg that help the kleptocrats of Uzbekistan and South Sudan steal from their people.


Wakey, wakey

Colin O’Sullivan

John W Sexton wants you to ‘wake for the first time’. That is the gauntlet-throw-down of his verse – poems which constantly make you invest time and thought, inverting thoughts and thought patterns and opening you to the idea of ‘thinking yourself into being’.


The Valley of Tears

Brendan Lowe

Comfort and security are illusory in Frank McGuinness’s new poetry collection. They are always weighed down by the fears that are kept to hand. In ‘A Dream About My Father’, the dream is of the father’s death. Comfort, community, family all collapse and vanish.


Wartime Voices

Gerald Dawe

After the deluge of books, documentaries, exhibitions, conferences and  commemorations marking the course of the First World War, there is something affirming in returning to the texts of poems written just before, during and somewhat after that cataclysmic event.


Love Your Hair

Amanda Bell

Hair – rather than skin colour –can be seen as the principle signifier of race and has the power to confer classification as black or not. The story of how ‘treatments’ for taming black hair were developed by black entrepreneurs is a depressingly familiar capitalist narrative.


Stasis in Darkness

Daniel Fraser

In Ingeborg Bachmann’s newly reissued novel ‘Malina’, questions of existence, and the relation of the one who writes to what is written, are continually at play. This is not to say that it is not ‘serious’, rather that its effects are often achieved through parody, laughter, allusion and humour.


Waiting for Dilly

Declan O’Driscoll

In Kevin Barry’s new novel two drug-dealers reminisce about their shared past in a stylised, expletive-filled Hiberno-English. The language used to disentangle their characters and circumstances is wildly expressive and full of observations and inflections that are unexpected and perfectly placed.


Well Bless Your Heart!

Maura O’Kiely

If you want to be a Southern lady and reach the summit of flowery femininity and thoughtful, gracious manners, there are a few things to master: how to bestow a sharp-edged compliment and when not to wear pearls. But above all never be seen chewing gum, because that’s just cheap.


Collateral Damage

Enda O’Doherty

Thomas Niedermayer was a German factory manager whose plant brought much-needed jobs to West Belfast. A new book tells the story of his death at the hands of the IRA, and places it in the context of an armed campaign which was certain it would prevail but eventually had to settle for a lot less.


Waiting to live

Dan A O’Brien

The Nigerian-Irish writer Melatu Uche Okorie writes from a situation between two worlds, the migrant’s ever-present dilemma of here and there, but with the added complication that many of her stories are set in that particular purgatory the direct provision centre.


Endings and Beginnings

Enda Wyley

Patrick Deeley’s poems highlight mankind’s wilful destruction of the natural world, and yet he is also able to see the lark, hatching a clutch of scribble-marked eggs, in the rusted exhaust of an old tractor in a sawmill.


Putting Flesh on the Archive

Keith Payne

In a world of interminable newsfeeds and yet also of historical amnesia, there is perhaps no more defiant an act than remembering. Rachael Hegarty’s thirty-three ballads give each of the victims of the Monaghan and Dublin bombings of 1974 a poem where they can live again.


With Cú Chulainn, against democracy

Proinsias Ó Drisceoil

Standish O’Grady wanted the Ascendancy – both gentry and aristocracy ‑ to take on a role of leadership in Ireland, modelling themselves on the Gaelic heroes. Later he was to embrace syndicalism ‑ anything to block an emerging democracy with peasant proprietorship at its core.


Out of the Frying Pan

Tony Flynn

Kevin grows up in a harsh world. His father died when he was just four, and he can see his brother being dragged into a life of crime, yet for all this, he has a grounding in empathy that protects him. He may be in a hot spot, but he will not in the end succumb to the fire.


Urban Myths

Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado

There are – at least – two sides to everything. Jan Carson’s new novel skilfully blends magic realism, absurdism and surrealism to explore the complexities of Northern Ireland’s ‘post-conflict’ society, and how this hyphenated existence holds the past and present in dangerous tension.


Getting to Grey

Liam Hennessy

Bipolar disorder has been explained as an attempt to create a world in which everything is either black or white. The illness can only be treated, it is suggested, when the important third element is introduced.


Astonished at Everything

Peter Sirr

Generosity and largeness of vision seem to meet happily in the poems of Uruguayan-French writer Jules Supervielle, which seem to cover great distances in short spaces.


All or Nothing

Joschka Fischer

Those Germans who argue so vehemently against a so-called transfer union should realise that the EU has always been such a union. France got the CAP for its large rural economy and Germany the common market for its strong industry. Little has changed since.


Birds, beasts and flowers

Gerald Dawe

DH Lawrence’s poetry offers a record of the powerful current of physical pleasure, the elusive joy of witnessing that which is different, and the kind of opinionated prickliness when things are not what they seem to be or should be.


The Stilled World

Nicola Gordon Bowe

Unsentimental, sparing and unspecific, the painter Patrick Pye has sought figurative images to represent symbolically “the archetypes of our humanity” depicted in an alternative universe where expiation has been achieved.


Forthcoming Events and News

A regularly updated diary of events of literary and artistic interest and news from the publishing and arts worlds


Small Potatoes and Civil War

Acceptance or rejection of the Anglo-Irish Treaty was immaterial to tackling the problems facing independent Ireland. The ensuing Civil War is so iconic and so constantly referenced because our political leaders insisted it was of immense importance. But really it was not.


Is it time?

When the destructive tendencies of global capitalism seem beyond democratic control and truth is dismissed as ideology propagated by ‘experts’, when environmental degradation has got beyond the point of no return, then perhaps it’s time for the clever animals who invented knowledge to realise they have to die.


Orwell’s glimmer, Winston’s arithmetic

Back in 2003, Margaret Atwood suggested that the dating of the Appendix on Newspeak in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four clearly indicated that the message of the book was not entirely pessimistic. But was she the first to come to this conclusion?


The Other Sort

Séamus Lillis was moved to apply for a job in the Northern Ireland civil service back in the 1960s by the generous interview expenses on offer. He was surprised to get the position, and surprised again when, one Friday, a superior with whom he was having lunch said: ‘I’ve ordered a steak for you.’


Who do you think you are?

Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, published in 1947, and his much later ‘The Drowned and the Saved’ are for many the most compelling literary treatments of the Holocaust. Yet some people, particularly in America, felt that a person whose Jewish identity seemed so off-centre was not a suitable standardbearer.


A giant leap for whom?

It is not necessarily the case that progress in science or technology will be accompanied by equivalent advances in civilisation. In the decade when an age-old dream of mankind, long thought impossible, was finally being realised, white men still refused to drink their beer from the same glasses as Afro-Caribbeans or Asians in an English pub.


Wisdom Builds Itself a House

Sitting at a laptop, for all that our curious fingers flit across cyberspace, confines us to our private space. We need the opportunity to wander and discover and be let loose among the materiality of paper and physical buildings. Peter Sirr writes on libraries, theft and the clutches of Hades.


On not being reached

It is more than twenty years since the mobile phone first burst - or brrred – its way into our lives. Initially, in Dublin at any rate, it was not regarded as a marvel. Rather it was customary for everyone else in the pub to stare coldly at the recipient of the call, who if he had any decency would blush and hurry towards the exit.


Elephant? What elephant?

Jeremy Corbyn does not recognise the nature of the Brexit national division, nor does he see that it cannot be understood in the language of class division. This failure is hardly surprising, as he comes from a tradition where pretty much everything can be explained in that language.


What’s your problem?

There are characters, George Eliot wrote, who continually create collisions for themselves in dramas of their own imagination which no one is prepared to act with them: ‘their susceptibilities will clash against objects that remain innocently quiet.’ It’s called unrequited love.


Shop Girls, High and Low

The arrival of the department store at the end of the nineteenth century gave birth to a new social actor, the shop girl specialising in sales. Exploitation, of more than one kind, remained, but here was a figure with more pride and independence than the traditionally heavily oppressed grocery employee.


First catch your hare

Strangely bored on a weekend in the country in the late 1940s with an old lover rediscovered, Elizabeth David’s thoughts turned to apricots and olives, lemons, oil and almonds. In grey, rainy, puritanical England one didn’t mention such things. Hell, they were dirty words!


War is peace, freedom is slavery ... left is right?

Seventy years ago Fred Warburg published 'Nineteen Eighty-four', which he saw as a deliberate attack on socialism and socialist parties generally and 'worth a cool million votes to the Conservative Party'. He can't have known George Orwell all that well.


The French Are Different

In Ireland we like to have a good bunch of Independents, on top of the usual political parties, to choose from. In France they like having a huge variety of parties, and behind them any number of political clubs, currents, think tanks and factions. It’s the ideas, you see: they’re mad for the ideas.


The Politics of Good Intentions

The ‘shared community’ that Alliance champions in Northern Ireland is unlikely to come into being, but the existence of divisions provides a fertile ground for a politics of good intentions that, while it cannot alter fundamental political differences, provides the basis for a third form of identity politics.


The Costs of Technology

A tradesman’s demand for a fee that seemed exorbitant led ‘The Irish Penny Magazine’ back in 1840 to muse on the relative value of slaves in America and the children of the poor in Ireland.


LP Curtis Jnr: 1932-2019

Lewis Perry Curtis, one of the leading twentieth century historians of modern Ireland, taught at Princeton, Berkeley and Brown universities and published important books on land reform, landlordism and eviction and racial stereotyping of the Irish, both in Britain and the United States.



A former minister for enterprise famously suggested that while Ireland was physically closer to Berlin it was spiritually, and economically, closer to Boston. As our neighbouring island prepares to push off into the North Atlantic, it is worth asking if this is still a tenable orientation for the state.



The following is an extract from Emer Nolan’s Five Irish Women: The second republic, 1960-2016, published this month by Manchester University Press.


The Unstoppable Irish, by Dan Milner

The Irish in New York faced much of the same hostility from a Protestant establishment that wished to exclude them as they did at home. But eventually they came to belong, based on their service in the US army their role in maintaining law and order, their political skills, and, not least, their sheer numbers.


Marriage and the Irish, Salvador Ryan (ed)

This fascinating miscellany comprises seventy-nine short pieces on marriage practices in Ireland over approximately 1,300 years. During this period the institution of marriage was organised around property, status, succession and, in the case of the elite, politics.


Rogue States, by Fred Johnston

In Fred Johnston’s new collection the subject is the experience of cancer or suspected cancer. The prevailing mood is one of grim fatalism; there is no belief in the medical world doing good. This is a world without Ms Nightingales.


A Narrow Sea, by Jonathan Bardon

A history of the interactions between Ireland and Scotland over two millennia, told in a series of 120 episodes, ranges entertainingly from the Roman governor Agricola’s plan to invade Ireland from Scotland to 21st century pitch invasions at Ibrox and Celtic Park.


To Live Like a Moor, Olivia Remie Constable

The cultural absorption or lack of it of large immigrant communities may not have predictable outcomes. The relationship between culture and politics, it seems, is not straightforward and drawing political conclusions from cultural practices is an inexact business.


The One Hundred Best Novels in Translation, by Boyd Tonkin

A new anthology of works of fiction translated into English is modest about its ambitions and disclaims any ambition to be ‘canonical’. Nevertheless it is a smartly executed work, which invites us to fill in some gaps in our literary education and ‘get out a bit more’.


Revivalism and Modern Irish Literature, by Fionntán de Brún

Once independence was won, the question facing Irish ideologues and leaders was how to make revival real. It was then that the tenuous and tentative nature of the relation between the cultural and the political became clear. Those different spheres would never march in lockstep.


Love Notes from a German Building Site, Adrian Duncan

In Berlin, an old building is being repurposed for use as a computer store. In the middle of a bleak winter, the construction workers have inadequate time, inadequate resources, speak many different languages and have managers fresh from the Celtic Tiger building boom. Nothing can go wrong.


Pirate Queen, Tony Lee and Sam Hart

The indomitable Grace O’Malley, pirate queen, is the heroine of a new graphic novel that will entertain and inform children from nine years upwards.


Nano Nagle, the Life and the Legacy, Raftery, Delaney and Nowlan-Roebuck

Nano Nagle’s emphasis on educating the Catholic poor had a political dimension and contributed to the integration of the several parts of Catholic Ireland into a whole which had the potential of politically focusing the majority. In this sense it is not too fanciful to see her  work as prefiguring that of O’Connell.


A Short History of Drunkenness, Mark Forsyth

A Ukrainian proverb can be taken to illustrate our human attraction – and perhaps our occasional uneasiness about that attraction – to alcohol, its pleasures and dangers. “The church is near,” it goes, “and the tavern is far. It is snowing heavily. I shall walk carefully.”


Monster Agitators: O’Connell’s Repealers, 1843 Ireland, Vincent Ruddy

O’Connell’s Monster Meetings came to an abrupt halt in October 1843 when the Viceroy  mobilsed four battalions of troops, some four hundred armed RIC and Metropolitan Police and moved three gunships into Dublin Bay 


Then Again, Pat Boran

In a poem about O’Connell Street’s Spire, the monument becomes a dagger, a skewer, an extended middle finger. None of the names are inclusive of us, the citizens; the Spire is the ‘we’ reduced to ‘I’, which might be seen as the opposite of Boran’s project, to expand the ‘I’ to ‘we’.