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Mike Murphy. Reading the Future: Irish Writers in Conversation with Mike Murphy.

Cliodhna Ni Anluain, ed. Dublin. Lilliput (Dufour, distr.). 2001 (c2000). 255 pages, ill. ISBN 1-901866-57-2

A MIXED PANEL CHOSE the twelve Irish writers included here as those most likely to be read in a hundred years' time. The process was conducted with the requisite degree of self-doubt and awareness of the vagaries of history; several well-known names also barely missed inclusion, while a desire to make the field representative may have skewed the results here and there. What has emerged is a range of names from the predictable Seamus Heaney, Edna O'Brien, William Trevor, and Brian Friel, to the much less well known Derek Mahon and Marina Carr, with Thomas Kinsella and John Banville somewhere in between.

One approaches a collection like this with the ridiculous hope that "all will be revealed," and comes away unsatisfied but confirmed in the wise thought that the work itself is what counts rather than the person who produces it. So here we are offered information on contemporary Irish writers' interests, work habits, problems encountered, and so forth, in a thoughtful, generally nonintrusive way. The sense of things is that these folks all have jobs as writers and that their main concern is to get on with the business at hand. Wild escapades are no longer in vogue.

By the same token, while the interviews are highly accessible, they will reveal most to those who have been following a particular author's trajectory in some detail. Indeed, one would have to admit that no writer included is compellingly interesting in him- or herself in the way that, for example, Byron is without the poetry, or even maybe Philip Larkin.

One ends up, then, with a random assortment of old and new nuggets of wisdom--momentary stays against one's confusion, to adapt the famous line from Robert Frost here quoted by Heaney. Thus John Banville on being fed up with what one has already published: "It's not that we're jaded generally, it's just `that thing' was for that period. It was finished about a year ago. It's gone." Heaney elaborates on one of his motives for translating Sweeney Astray: he wanted "to say to unionists in the North, `Look! Ulster may be British but here was Sweeney, a king in County Antrim in the eighth century. The ethos of the places that you think of as Plantation places was Irish in Sweeney's day. There was and is another culture here. Listen!'" Michael Longley offers a ringing endorsement for the profession of poetry: "In terms of pleasure it's more enjoyable than eating or drinking or sex even. I live hoping that there'll be another poem." John McGahern looks back with malice toward none on his being fired from his teaching post in Dublin after marrying in a registry office: "I was sent letters saying that they'd be happy to write references for me if I went to teach in England. It was all right corrupting the English kids." Edna O'Brien confesses that she is "more of a rereader than a reader." William Trevor surprises with: "I'm very fond of Carson McCullers, whom I read a lot." Reading the Future will also appeal most to those who read a lot by the writers it profiles.
Kieran Quinlan
University of Alabama, Birmingham
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Author:Quinlan, Kieran
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:542
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