A RECENT article in the Galway Advertiser noted: "Ken Bruen has been weirdly neglected by Galway’s cultural establishment, having never been invited to read at Cúirt or the Galway International Arts Festival, or received any other official recognition.”
Bruen himself commented on this perceived exclusion: “I’ve given up caring about it but I don’t know why I never get asked.” I think I can be of assistance here. Bruen has committed a number of crimes against literature for which he must atone before he can be given the code for entry into the sanctum.
His first crime is he sells too many books, not fatal in and of itself – Colm Tóibin also sells well and is so busy looking out over his glasses at literary festivals and pretending to be serious, it is doubtful he ever gets to go home and do normal things like put the bins out - but they are bought by people who do not read the New York Review of Books; who do not care about whoever failed to win what at the the Irish Book Awards; and cannot name the literary editor of The Irish Times. Bruen has largely bypassed the literary gatekeepers and this is a sin for which he will not be forgiven.
Absolution for the writer's other crime will be less easily got. Indeed, on page seven of his new novel The Ghosts of Galway, he is at it again:
“A failed suicide is a sad, sad fucker...
For me, the years of fuckups, pain, mutilation, grievous loss would you think,
...Lead to wisdom?
Job as a security guard.
Suicide by boredom.”
Bruen should know one will never be asked to join Colm (or if Colm’s not available Anne Enright or, failing that, John Boyne ) if one writes books about security guards. It is all just too blue collar for the average connoisseur of such events - which mostly consist of the sort of people who have far more sympathy for Frances Fitzgerald than they do for Maurice McCabe - and who mill around theatres and hotel lobbies, as poet Dave Lordan puts it, “pretending to like each other”.
There might be some hope if Bruen were more of a comic writer, in the manner of Roddy Doyle and Pat McCabe, and willing to turn his depressed security guard into a figure of fun for refined ladies from the more intellectual bits of Threadneedle Road. However he is not that sort of writer. There is humour throughout this always sparky book, which is an excellent read, but it is the humour of the gallows. Bruen is not the only Irish fiction writer currently effectively black-listed by those who think they call the shots – Gene Kerrigan is another similarly excluded by the literary wing of the Irish establishment for obvious political reasons. In this context Bruen should be proud of his place on the blacklist and do everything he can to stay on it.