Thursday, 2 September 2010

Call me Myself - Claire Keegan, Pat McCabe and some rambling shite

Original Post - Thursday, August 26, 2010

I recently read Clare Keegan’s collection of short stories Walk the Blue Fields and was impressed by the clarity and stylistic mastery displayed within. It is a mastery within the tradition of the short story writers and I had thought McGahern a number of times before arriving at Surrender (after McGahern) based upon his memoirs.

The books cover is replete with the acclaim of critics and her peers. “Already touched by greatness” “exceptional” “genius” Raymond Carver”  etc. It started me thinking about the things that make a writer “great”. One thing felt wrong for me – I wasn’t sure that the writer was really consumed by the voices within the stories (and I wasn’t wholly consumed myself). They felt self-consciously like ‘great short stories’.

I couldn’t really clarify my thoughts though and I didn’t want to appear to put down a book that I had thoroughly enjoyed.

The next book that I picked up (and have yet to finish, although I am almost there) was Call Me the Breeze. In this book Pat McCabe presents another of his great ‘unreliable narrators’ and does so through the creation of a voice and story at once compelling, true and from a place that seems to be in a different universe than McGahern and Keegan although based in McCabe’s home only a short drive from the Leitrim where the vast majority of McGahern’s work is set.

When McCabe writes about the Mohawks, a psychobilly band who win a national talent show in Limerick (like another band who went on to be an even greater success than The Mohawks and who also appear in Joey Tallon’s world) - I actually wanted to see them. I know that  ‘our hero’ Joey Tallon is going to go further and further down the plughole of Irish history but I want to go there even if the journey makes me shudder a few times.

(The other band who won a talent show in Limerick)
Rather than create a world that is discrete to the story/novel itself McCabe’s world reflects and distorts the real world in a way that seems truer than realism or even reality itself. It also, through the compulsive reading of Joey references Hesse, Gogol, Joyce, Kerouac and a host of other great writers as well as tv series, showbands, Bono, Harvey Wenstein and many many other elements of the autodidacts mind.

With paramilitaries and local councilors, vast quantities of LSD; a spell in Mountjoy, inflatable dolls and a gallery of characters who have been damaged in the boys home or in their own homes this is a truer more all encompassing Ireland than any other I have read. (It’s a world I’ve visited before in other works by McCabe, and perhaps screenplays by Ronan Carr)  There are always people using the line that “at the time we didn’t know”. Repressing things isn’t the same as not knowing. We knew then and we certainly know now but by and large we act like we don’t give a shit. And to believe you can change things you’d want to be as disconnected from / connected to reality as Joey Tallon.

I’m finishing now because I want to finish McCabe’s book. He’s a great writer, no doubt. Keegan is a very good writer (in my book) but she has a long way to go to reach the heights McCabe plays games at. And even while he is playing those games you feel that you are getting to know HIM, not how to write or what constitutes great writing.

By the way McCabe doesn’t get away without reminding me of another book – the very great Confederacy of Dunces and a quick google search shows I’m not the only one.

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