Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Green Book - out now!

I'm not sure about reviewing something that has me in it, but let me say that the first issues of The Green Book is rather spiffing all round.

The brief of TGB is 'Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature', which is quite a broad brief. In his Editor's Note, Brian J. Showers gives his eminently good reasons for focusing on Irish weird fiction, and makes clear that his approach will be very inclusive. And that is certainly the case with the contents of the first issue.

Part One of Albert Power's extended essay 'Towards and Irish Gothic' begins the first issue in fine style. I admit that my knowledge of some of the texts mentioned is pretty much non-existent. That didn't stop me enjoying Power's erudite and poetic exploration of stories that range from, in his words, 'Celtic Crochets to Castles of Dread'. As an introduction to the subject that impresses with the depth and range of Irish literature, this would be hard to beat. Factually fascinating, this essay is also beautifully written.

Passing over my own piece on Conor McPherson, which is lightweight stuff by comparison, we find more erudition in 'The Charm of Old Women's Tales: Le Fanu's Use of Oral Tradition'. The distinguished folklorist Jacqueline Simpson focuses on the use of traditional Irish stories in Le Fanu's novels and short stories. As she observes, the author was sometimes rather condescending and flippant about the beliefs of 'the common people', but at his best he employs folklore to remarkable effect. Indeed, the simple directness of an oral narrative is contrasted with Le Fanu's unfortunate tendency to clutter his stories with too many 'authorities' and bits and bobs of supposed verification.

That's followed by Dan Studer's piece on the Belfast Forrest Reid, an author unfamiliar to me. Reid achieved some critical acclaim before his death in 1947, and in 'Adventures of a Dream Child' Studer makes a strong case for Reid's unique virtues as a writer on childhood. A good article on an unknown writer makes you want to see out the subject's work, and I certainly would like to acquaint myself with Reid's now-neglected novels.

Michael Dirda's 'Four-Leaf Clovers' also looks at lesser-known authors, making a strong case for so-called minor writers as easier to get on with than the literary giants. Among the Irish writers Dirda champions are James Stephens (The Crock of Gold), Flann O'Brien, and Lord Dunsany. What they have in common is, as Dirda observes, a prolific inventiveness in colourful prose that amounts to 'elegant blarney'. Again, there's an author I'd never heard of - Mervyn Wall, creator Brother Fursey, a mediaeval monk who strikes a deal with the Devil - from the best of motives.

The Green Book #1 also contains a substantial review section, and generally has the heft of a serious journal with the light touch of a more 'fannish' publication. It's a hard balance to strike, between serious scholarship and entertaining the interested lay reader, and I think it's been struck almost perfectly here.





2 comments:

Aonghus Fallon said...

I'll definitely check it out! I think 'The Shining City' was the only play I ever attended with a ghost in it - well-known Dublin actor Stanley Townsend played the grieving widower - and it scared the bejazus out of me. And whereas I don't normally associate Myles with horror/ghost stories, I was lucky enough to see Eamon Morrissey reprise his role in 'The Brother' a few years ago (the play is an amalgam of a lot of other stuff by Myles) in which he tells a story - from the perspective of the murderer - about killing a rival taxidermist and then impersonating his victim by wearing his skin, only to be accused of murdering himself - the sort of absurdism at which Myles excelled, but given a certain creepy resonance by being told in grim earnest.

I associate ghosts etc mostly with the folk tales still common when I was a child, as opposed to traditional Angelo-Irish literature. The devil - generally a suave gentleman in black - featured quite a bit. A friend of mine from Ennis, now in his late fifties, told me how dancehall owners in his home town would claim the Prince of Darkness had been sighted at a rival function by some innocent girl, the girl in question nearly succumbing to his charms before glimpsing his cloven foot beneath the table. What the devil was doing in an Irish dancehall I have no idea - I'm sure he had better things to do with his time.

valdemar said...

I saw 'Shining City' at a tiny theatre in Newcastle, and it is very good. I was lucky enough to see Eamon Morrisey as The Brother about 15 years ago, too. Great stuff.

I'm sure the devil must be very efficient at time management, which is why he can spend an evening in Ireland now and again.