Schindler’s List recently brought 2 Thomas Keneally to Europe for a

the film based on his novel, but at the i end of a hectic week, the prolific



_ Love in a hot


With his third book Desperadoes, Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor has shipped a Dublin taxi-driver and his estranged wife to Nicaragua. He tells Tom Lappin why.

Joseph O‘Connor wanted to write a bitter-sweet poignant romance about the fragmented marriage of a middle-aged Dublin couple. So he set it in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolutionary govemment. It‘s not the first time he‘s found it necessary to take his characters out of Ireland in order to write about the country. His pyrotechnic first novel Cowboys And Indians followed the adventures of charismatic wise-guy Eddie Virago in London and spoke volumes about a new. irreverent generation of young lrish people.

With Desperudoes though. O‘Connor is drawing on his own experiences to write about an earlier generation. The central couple in the book. Frank and Eleanor Little. are middle-class Dubliners who fly to Nicaragua to find their son Johnny. believed dead. Amid the bureaucratic muddle and occasional terror ofa war-zone they begin to come to terms with their own personal tragedy. the break-up of their marriage.

In Cowboys And Indians. and the short story collection True Believers. ()‘Connor was

Joseph O’Connor: ‘the small things are the big things’

predominantly writing about his own age group. but was comfortable concentrating on older characters in I)(’.\‘pt't'u(/ot’.\‘. ‘lt‘s a very interesting generation to write about in lreland.‘ he says. ‘because in the late 50s and early 60s. there was huge mobility between classes. and people like my own parents and Frank and Eleanor in the book became middle-class. swallowed all the propaganda of what the new lreland would be like. For people like Frank and Eleanor who did everything they were supposed to. worked hard. sent their kids to good schools. went to church every Sunday. it still didn‘t work out. and that‘s the generation that‘s produced mine. So in a way you can‘t understand Eddie Virago until you understand what his parents are like.‘

Some of Eddie‘s streetwise charm re-emerges in Dex/rerudoes. in the character of Johnny. a cool. vulnerable dude with a line line in sulkiness. ‘Jolmny is not the nicest bloke you could ever meet.‘ says ()‘Connor. ‘He‘s terribly nice to all his mates. they think he’s great. but his relationship with his parents is characterised by utter selfishness and a refusal to see any of the sufferings that they might have been

through. Like Eddie. he's a very sensitive young man who. like most sensitive people. has no interest whatsoever in the sensitivities of others.‘

Despite the setting. I)t'spw'oil(ws is essentially about individuals rather than politics. emotions rather than issues. ‘To me the small things are the big things,‘ he says. ‘Des/motion is a love story and to me there isn‘t any bigger theme than that. I suppose the writers I like. Raymond Carver or Richard l’ord. are writing about small things. but you come away from their work with the feeling that they‘ve kind of written about everything.‘

For an Irish writer at the moment it is difficult to escape the spectre of Roddy Doyle. ()‘Connor acknowledges the importance of the Booker winner. but also points to a wider group of young writers changing the image of lrish literature. ‘Being lrish at the same time as Roddy Doyle has both benefits and drawbacks.‘ he says. ‘What he has done is opened up British people to the notion that something very exciting is going on in contemporary lrish fiction. and for the first time in years there's 20 or 30 writers doing really interesting work. turning notions of lrislmess on its head. It‘s much more an lreland of the suburbs rather than rural life. and the major preoccupations of religion. the allure of the land and the problems in the North are disappearing now.‘

()'('onnor recognises that the notion of the Irish as an inherently fey and poetic people is as damaging as the old stereoptype of the thick and violent Paddy. and sees the task for the new writers as creating a

more realistic impression of the country. ‘lt's a great challenge to this generation to try and come up with : an idea of what lreland is really like. and it‘s the first time in decades that that has happened. l don‘t think

we really know what it is to be lrish. but out ofthose contradictions some very exciting work is emerging.‘

lh’S/it’i'ui/oes is published by l’luniingo on 7 More/I. ' [meet/o! {74.99.


whirlwind promotional tour, supporting

Australian author was ebullient as ever and raring to chat about his ‘poor neglected child’, the eponymous hero of his latest novel Jacko The Great Intruder.

Jacko Emptor, however, is anything but neglected. Brought up in the lock- free environment of the Northern Territory, he is the star of US morning TV, famous for his live invasions of New Yorkers’ homes. The technique leaves him unscarred - until he promises to search for the lost daughter of a victim of one of his early-morning raids.

Keneally met some of ‘Murdoch’s television cowboys’ alter teaching at llew York University during the

Thomas Keneally: his latest novel is an emphatically excellent yarn which transcends the good-read lactor.

Australian Bicentennial celebrations. ‘Gne of them was a great larrikin,’ he says of one Gordon Elliot, who provided the inspiration for Jacko, explaining the term as ‘someone who is a bit of a wild man, basically lull of good intentions, but likely to break things.’ Fascinated, Keneally learned of the ‘licit trespass’ technique, and reasoned that, far from emerging

flippant affair.

on him.’

unscathed from his encounter with the ‘strange territory’ of American culture, the interviewer would eventually be destroyed by the process of what seems at first sight to be a fairly

‘The same thing happens to Jacko, of course,’ says Keneally. ‘He can’t get in and out without picking up a fine dust of American Gothic, which astounds him all along. He never quite works out America. He has a contempt for the people who consider television a sombre witness to history; he thinks of it as a circus. But it becomes a serious circus: from chapter one the circus animals begin to make claims

Although an emphatically excellent yarn, the novel transcends the good- read factor to prod gently into the belly of Australian ‘mate-ness’, male attitudes to women and American sensibilities. Particularly political correctness, which astounds Keneally as much as his hero. ‘The great irony is that, within a quarter hour’s walk from our exercises of [politically correct] courtesy, there are areas where no matter what you call

“W‘th V0“ 3'9 in enom‘ous Deli“ 1 by llodder 8: Stoughton at £15.99. J

Jacko moves back and forth between the States, Sydney and the Northern Territory. ‘I wanted to make it a “Tale

of Two Cities”, except a better writer had already used that title,’ explains Keneally. The darkness of American society, otten eclipsed by the PC culture, is thrown into even starker

relief by Keneally’s passionate, Republican view of Sydney complete with its muscular foibles, intellectual

squabbles and hedonistic opera life -

and the anarchic frontier attitude of

the llorthern Territory, where taking the piss is a means of endeannent.

Like many of Keneally’s novels,

* notably The Chant 0f Jimmi Blacksmith, Towards Asmira (about war and famine in Eritrea) and

. Schindler’s Ark, Jacko is driven by a

moral predicament. ‘To use a crappy

computer term,’ says Keneally, ‘these interfaces are where the action is,

where people are put under stress and

I have to make choices according to

; their morality. Humans somehow find

I grace under pressure and it is the

drama of that which attracts me.’

: (Thom Dibdin)

' Jacko The Great Intruder is published

The List 25 Febr‘uary~-l() March [W4 59