Sasha de Buyl, director of Cúirt
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
THOUGH IT was released in 2016, The Lonely City has never been more relevant, as Laing gently prises apart the nature of being alone, laying bare the soft heart of how loneliness makes us feel.
Acutely contemporary, The Lonely City looks at loneliness in an urban environment but also as part of a digital landscape, where most of our human interaction comes through a screen.
I’ve returned to it many times, especially when considering the impact of social media in my life. As someone who lived for many years in a different country to my family, technology has long been the only way for me to connect with people I love.
In what has become a theme in her work, Laing looks back to artists across the 20th century to make sense of solitude, finding solace and understanding in the work of Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, David Wojnarowicz, and others. Laing combines art writing and creative non-fiction here in a way that is very accessible to readers, including those who might not think of themselves as visual art fans. A surprisingly tender and careful book, it is perfect reading for those who are finding self-isolation a challenge.
Elaine Feeney, poet and novelist
That They May Face The Rising Sun By John McGahern
A BOOK I reread recently and highly recommend for now is, That They May Face The Rising Sun, where Kate and Joe Rutledge returned from London to live out their lives in a small community, around a lake in County Leitrim.
There is a calm way they go about their involvement in this complex community. McGahern’s characters will be familiar to anyone with experience of rural Ireland, and though they could slip into silly caricature, they never do. It is a kinder, more soft focused write by the novelist compared to Amongst Women or The Dark, though all of McGahern is worth rereading again, or reading for the first time.
In a remarkable scene close to the end of the novel, Joe Rutledge and Tom Kelly face the task of laying out a body. It is difficult to close the mouth, to keep the dentures in place, as they strip him naked and lay him on the floor and wash his remains.
They change bedclothes, get out rosary beads, placing them intricately in his hands. Both men know in their tiny community that these things matter, because people matter, in life and in death. McGahern’s writing always reasserts my hope in people as a community, looking out for each other.
With McGahern, the reader takes a tiny geographical journey, though you will travel far. You will find a formidable and awkward patriarch and a more stalwart society bubbling underneath darkness. You will definitely believe that society matters.
Gerry Hanberry, author, poet
The Best of Myles - A Selection from ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’
INSPIRED BY a Facebook post I came across the other day while...er...researching and simultaneously keeping a safe distance from my writing desk, I got to thinking what the author Brian O’Nolan (aka Flann O’Brien ) would have made of our current ‘Emergency’.
He is the sage who gave us ‘A pint of plain is your only man’. This thought sent me perusing the shelves I secretly call ‘books to be kept forever no matter what’. There I found the perfect companions to have us smiling through the solitary times we are all enduring.
The first O’Nolan book I came across was a collection of hilarious newspaper articles called, The Best of Myles, A Selection from ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’. ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ was a satirical daily column penned by O’Nolan under the cover of his famous nom de plume, Myles na Gopaleen. It was a riotous mishmash of fanciful anecdotes, magnificently laborious puns and parodies, and fiercely satirical reflections on affairs of the day which ran in The Irish Times from 1940 to 1966.
Here you will find immortal creations such as ‘The Brother’ and ‘The Plain People of Ireland’ as well as ‘Keats and Chapman’ with their appalling puns and also his ‘Catechism of Cliché’, or ‘a compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing’ – ‘Is a man ever hurt in a motor smash? No. He sustains an injury’. Does he ever die from said injuries? No. He succumbs to them’. Try to get a copy. You will laugh out loud for days.