Looking in the long shadows of life

The Contemporary Irish Novel
April 15, 2005

One of Linden Peach's previous concerns has been that idyllic fantasies about Irish childhood, family and community "hide the way things actually work". With his latest work of literary criticism, The Contemporary Irish Novel , he offers a lucid and sometimes provocative explication of the way things work in a selection of Irish writing.

Like many of the writers he discusses, Peach is not afraid to write against the grain, and he brings together ostensibly different texts and authors in a relationship that casts new light on subject matter and narrative strategies.

Among the themes he explores are the mother figure, parent-child relationships, domestic violence, self-harm and fetishism, marginalisation and uncertainty. Importantly, female writers are well represented, with critical appraisal of Jennifer Johnston, Emma Donoghue, Kathleen Ferguson, Mary Leland and Linda Anderson, among others.

Of particular interest is the chapter that discusses Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked into Doors alongside Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy and William Trevor's Felicia's Journey as texts that give voice to "previously concealed or half-admitted subjects", such as domestic violence, child murder and serial killers.

Colm Toibin says that Irish writing is "distinguished by its passionate voice" and "its keen awareness of Ireland's political problems" - and Peach does not disappoint as he shows that "passionate voice". The eclectic range of novels and novelists he discusses offers a critique of a post-industrial contemporary Ireland and of the symbiotic and political relations between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Ireland and Britain.

As in his previous works, Peach is concerned with transgression, uncertainty and ideological conflict, and he draws heavily on aspects of Freudian analysis to underpin specific readings. This is particularly apparent in his discussions of child-parent relationships.

Claiming to have sought to avoid a rigid distinction between literature and theory, he says the novel, "especially at its most philosophical and speculative", makes its own theoretical discussion. He does, however, incorporate a range of theoretical debates drawing on Homi Bhabha, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, as well as Michel Foucault, Melanie Klein and Julia Kristeva. In this, he uses a light touch that provides clear and cogent critical readings that students will find most helpful. The Contemporary Irish Novel provides an excellent resource for students and scholars in the growing sector of scholarship on Irish writing.

Pat Wheeler is senior lecturer in literature, Hertfordshire University.

The Contemporary Irish Novel: Critical Readings

Author - Linden Peach
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 250
Price - £47.50 and £15.99
ISBN - 0 333 94892 0 and 94893 9

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