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The Irish Novel 1960 -2010

George O' Brien
Cork University Press

Exceptional public and private circumstances, such as the World Trade Center bombings in Joseph O'Neill's Netherland (2008) and the Vietnam War in Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin (2009), can lead to barriers of race and class being set aside and mutual interests embraced. Continuity renewal, beginning again with some degree of integrity and purpose after a violent visitation from history are among those interests, collapsing the distance between the themes that have emerged at home and those from abroad. Abroad, however - the novels just mentioned are both set in New York City - expressions of solidarity are much more obviously an aspect of the news each novel wishes to convey. In a setting as ostensibly homogeneous as Irish society is represented as being, where race and class have made com­paratively little impression on the imagination, living with another, much less living for another, is a much more difficult undertaking. Works as distinct from each other as Dermot Healy's A Goat's Song (1994), which in one sense deals with the personal dimension of cross-border relations, and Anne Enright's The Gathering (2007), which focuses on family troubles and the kind of relations that result from it, are two instances of the complications arising out of knowing one's own mind and believing oneself to be free to act in accordance with such knowledge. Such iterations of attachment and loss, hope and risk, make the world of one's own essentially a realm of mourning. The quality of consciousness that realm makes available is in the nature of a seismograph, registering the misgivings that isolation produces and the equally disturbing turbulence of intimacy.

The world outside the self, the social and material world beyond the borders of intimacy, is, not surprisingly, more problematic as a potential source of personal meaning. In rare cases, most notably that of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown, identity and community dovetail. The Rabbitte family and Paddy Clarke are where they live.