Two Books Set in Ireland: Photography and Fiction

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Breakfast at Cannibal’s Joe, Jay Spencer Green

bacjsJoe runs a CIA office in Dublin and he’s having problems with his cover as the manager of a company that is expected to be making a profit just like any bona fide company. This is the starting point for a novel that never lets up on its humourous attitude to matters that in an alternative universe – like the one we live in – would be the cause of severe consternation. Jokes come fast and furious, shooting across every page of the novel, and most of them are Joe’s. The reader may need reminding that this character is an American secret service operator because his brand of humour is black and so laden with irony as to make him sound like the quintessential stereotype of the smart-arsed Dubliner who finds it difficult to take anything seriously.

Sometimes the jokes are funny in an informed kind of way, as when Joe describes an MI6 agent with whom he is having difficulties as ‘the sort of asshole you see in photos surrendering Singapore to the Japs’. At other times they are just funny in a cosmopolitan way, as when a bomb goes off in Connolly St station when it is not the rush hour but still busy because of train delays: ‘leaves on the line, a suicide in Raheny, commuters from Sligo sabotaging their train so they wouldn’t have to go home to Sligo for the weekend’. More common are jokes of a purely gratuitous nature, as in a list of collective nouns (‘…an army of amputees, a shitload of nappies…) that has not the slightest relevance to the bizarre plot that is unfolding. Breakfast at Cannibal’s Joe is to be read as an antidote for humour-deprived states of mind or just anyone suffering from mirthlessness in a mirthless world.

Beyond Maps and Atlases, Bertien van Manen (Mack)

Bertien van Manen came to Ireland with pain in her heart, recently widowed, and a simple camera in her hands. ’I was guided by a feeling and a search, a longing for some kind of meaning in a place of myths and legends’. Hmm… that’s worrying, smacking as it does of someone who might have recently completed a short course in the kind of Irish literature that only the non-Irish enjoy reading. It doesn’t help to learn that she loves the work of John Banville.

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© Bertien van Manen 2016 courtesy MACK

Such reservations soon evaporate in a Celtic twilight when looking at the photographs in Beyond Maps and Atlases for what you see is less a homage to Yeats and the fairies and more a bleak but not nihilistic documentation of a small island with its western seaboard facing the un-human Atlantic. I don’t know if all the photographs were taken in the west of Ireland but that’s the feeling they convey: scary seascapes, dark and forbidding foliage, a country road eerily lit in yellow by a car’s headlights, human shapes disfigured by bad lighting and a cheap camera and a truly repellent image of a dead and fox-ravaged lamb.

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© Bertien van Manen 2016 courtesy MACK

It is hard to take in that van Marten was once a fashion photographer but she is well-connected and her acquaintance with the work of Ciarán Óg Arnold is clearly evident. The unremarkable is the new remarkable.

Beyond Maps and Atlases by Bertien van Manen published by MACK www.mackbooks.co.uk.  

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