Four on Friday: Mark Cantan, Keith Ridgway, Enrique Vila-Matas and Philip Larkin

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

The Four on Friday blog has become terribly sporadic, so apologies for that. I still think it’s a nice way to get lots of references to good writing from around the web into one place so here goes another.

The first piece is from a couple of weeks back: I read it, loved it, made a pledge to include it in a blog such as this … and then struggled in vain to set aside the time to put together a blog such as this.

So it’s a fortnight late, but maybe that’s no bad thing. Given the volume of reading material available to everyone these days, every time they pluck their mobile device from their pocket, there’s a chance a few people might have missed it, which would be a shame.

Mark Cantan is a lot of things. His Twitter profile lists comedy writer, actor, director, editor, puppeteer, musician and pistolier. He’s also someone to watch out for; minds like his don’t come along every day or week.

His short play “Somewhere”, part of Fishamble’s Tiny Plays for Ireland venture, is really a series of one-liners about people who may or may not be doing something, somewhere in Ireland, right at this moment.

I usually pull a quote or two but I couldn’t choose which part to include here as a tempter to click through. The best thing you can do is read it all. It’s fantastic.

Read “Somewhere” by Mark Cantan

I finally got round to reading Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway recently, and I’m hoping to include my own thoughts on it here in the next week or so. For now let me point you in the direction of a piece on John Self’s The Asylum blog from last year, which offers a concise summation of my own feelings:

This is a book which I read twice before reviewing it, to unpick the connections but also because I selfishly wanted the pleasure again. And now as I thumb the pages to write this, and get nervous with excitement at seeing the best bits again, this time both fresh and familiar, I wonder if I can resist a third go.

The third and fourth parts of this particular Four on Friday are a bit of a cheat. The mission of the blog is “Irish writing”, so it’s probably a bit tenuous to apply that to Dublinesque, the novel by Enrique Vila-Matas originally published in 2009, translated from  the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean and included on the shortlist announced this week for the International Foreign Fiction Prize.

But when a noted foreign master (who I admit I’ve yet to read – so little time, so many crappy little urgent tasks to do) writes a novel about the past and future of great literature, and sets it in Dublin on Bloomsday (June 16th), then that’s surely enough to qualify for reference here.

There are loads of reviews around the web, most of them hugely positive, for Dublinesque. I’ve decided to include here a piece from Rochester University’s Three Percent page, which describes itself as a resource for international literature, and which will be winging its way into my Google-endangered RSS feed very soon.

The novel concerns Samuel Riba, who has failed, it seems, at marriage, literary publishing, and maybe even life itself.

[Riba] dreams of the day when the spell of the best-seller will be broken, making way for the reappearance of the talented reader, and for the terms of the moral contract between author and audience to be reconsidered. He dreams of the day when literary publishers can breathe again, those who live for an active reader, for a reader open enough to buy a book and allow a conscience radically different from his own to appear in his mind. He believes that if talent is demanded of a literary publisher or a writer, it must also be demanded of a reader.

While I would say “Amen” to that, the cynic in me fears that dreams such as these are destined to be disappointed. Nevertheless, there’s nothing like great writing to beget great writing, so there’s always hope. (And in the week that translated works comprised half of the ten-book shortlist for the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, there’s a strong argument that such hope comes from so-called “foreign language fiction”.)

From the Three Percent review of Dublinesque:

Vila-Matas, as in his other works already translated from the Spanish, crafted Dublinesque in a meta-fictional, semi-autobiographical fashion. Forever fascinated by the nature of enigmatic authors, Vila-Matas works into the narrative references to authors both living and dead (including Julien Gracq, Fernando Pessoa, Robert Walser, Georges Perec, Paul Auster, John Banville, Brendan Behan, Italo Calvino, Rodrigo Fresán and his late friend Roberto Bolaño). Dublinesque is also, in part, an homage to both Joyce and his fellow countryman Samuel Beckett, both of whom loom large in the plot, structure, and thematic essence of the story itself.

Read Jeremy Garber’s piece on Dublinesque from Three Percent here

The title of the Vila-Matas book is taken from the title of a poem by Philip Larkin about an Irish funeral.

There is an air of great friendliness,
As if they were honouring
One they were fond of;
Some caper a few steps,
Skirts held skilfully
(Someone claps time),

And of great sadness also.

Read Dublinesque by Philip Larkin here

Would you like to join the Irish Writing Blog online book club? The April choice is Strumpet City by James Plunkett – more details here.

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