On Desmond Hogan, arguably the best and least known Irish writer in history

Desmond Hogan in 2010. Photo: Fran Veale/Writer Pictures

Desmond Hogan in 2010. Photo: Fran Veale/Writer Pictures

I haven’t mentioned this yet – for the undeniable reason that I hadn’t noticed it before today – but it definitely deserves a spot here.

A collection of short stories by Desmond Hogan, “The House of Mourning and Other Stories”, has been published by Dalkey Archive Press and received a favourable mention in a recent edition of The Daily Beast’s weekly literary round-up.

Hogan is someone who had gone entirely unnoticed by me until 2004 when I read an article by Robert McCrum in the Observer. The headline was “The Vanishing Man” and the piece was heavily laden with intrigue.

Hogan published four novels and five short story collections in the ’70s and ’80s. He won several awards. During his time in the limelight, his was the name which dominated any discussion about the future of Irish writing. He was friends with the literary set in London; he was on the books of Faber and shared an agent with Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey and Ian McEwan, all of whom would win the Booker Prize at least once; he was one of only two witnesses at the wedding of Kazuo Ishiguro.

Dinner parties at his basement flat became legendary, as Ishiguro recalled:

He’d produce a series of disgusting-looking but delicious things in large oven trays, and when each tray was done, it would get thrown behind him on to a pile in the sink. The atmosphere was very Irish. Des used to recite poetry. We rarely went home before three in the morning.

Perhaps the most beautifully oxymoronic thing about Hogan is that one of the things that will have made him attractive to publishers – an unpredictable, edgy, even dangerous personality, allied to genius, is a hugely marketable concoction – ultimately saw him withdraw completely from the world in which he had made his name. Years later, McCrum reported, despite living in virtually destitute conditions in the west of Ireland Hogan rebutted a bursary from the Arts Council as it may have impinged upon his artistic freedom.

He was becoming a brand, but he distrusted brands.

Returning to the Dalkey Archive Press collection, the title story is extracted on the website of Dublin Review of Books. Here’s a snippet:

In my girlhood I observed Jamesy as I walked with nuns and other orphans by his garden. I was an orphan in the local convent, our play-fields stretching by the river at the back of elegant houses where we watched the nice children of town, bankers’ children, doc­tors’ children, playing. Maria Mulcahy was my name. My mother, I was told in later years, was a Jean Harlow-type prostitute from the local terraces. 1, however, had hair of red which I admired in the mirror in the empty, virginal-smelling bathroom of the convent hall where we sat with children of doctors and bankers who had to pay three pence into the convent film show to watch people like Joan Crawford marry in bliss.

Jamesy was my first love, a distant love.

To sum up the enigma, it’s almost impossible to ascertain online whether this is a new collection or, as I suspect, a collection of previously published stories. This might be the first sentence you will ever read which includes the terms ‘saturation coverage’ and ‘Desmond Hogan’.

I suspect the whole story of Desmond Hogan will be told in the fullness of time.

Links:

Read Robert McCrum’s article “The Vanishing Man”

Read an extract of The House of Mourning on the website of Dublin Review of Books

“The House of Mourning and Other Stories” can be purchased from the Dalkey Archive Press here

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