Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Grass grew on The Grass Arena

Just finished watching Paul Duane's intriguing and revealing documentary about the author of The Grass Arena - one of the starkest memoirs I have read of life on society's edge. The memoir tells of his life as an Irish immigrant with a violent father, as a boxer, a wino, a convict and then remarkably as a chess prodigy in his thirties, a game he learnt in prison.

The film is called John Healy - You Have Been Warned, although it has an alternate, and more poetic title Barbaric Genius.

The RTE page is here. The Facebook page is here.

Having read the book many years ago and been blown away by it I was excited by the idea of this documentary when I heard it was being made (I've known Paul for many years). I hadn't really known anything about what became of John Healy after the publication of The Grass Arena - but it is a fascinating tale, one which is as clearly told by the evasiveness of some of the actors in the drama as by what we are told.

After an 'incident' which may have been no more than a phone call John Healy was blackballed. His book, which had won a major prize and sold well, was removed from circulation. He couldn't find another publisher who would work with him and he disappeared from the cultural radar. He was "too difficult".

The title comes from an item in The Observer when he was asked to appear at the Cuirt Literature Festival in Galway, asking if they knew what they were letting themselves in for and saying "You have been warned".

The Grass Arena has been republished as a Penguin Classic and a Dutch publisher has just published only his second book to be published and it is largely a collection of chess stratagems. He has two unpublished books that I would love to read and I can't be alone. Flawed or not they should be published.



  1. See the feature version at the Dublin Film Festival https://jdiff.ticketsolve.com/shows/126512304/events

  2. See at the Galway Film Fleadh