Brian Keenan Turlough (Jonathan Cape £16.99)
The human imagination is capable of amazing feats. Brian Keenan is the academic who, in 1986, was taken hostage by Shi'ite fundamentalists in Beirut. The four-and-a- half year ordeal prompted his best-seller An Evil Cradling. Now comes this novel, which evokes a conflict and pox-ridden 17th century Ireland alongside the life and times of Turlough O'Carolan, an ethereal, complex and celebrated harpist.
The novel’s central character apparently suggested itself to Keenan's mind during his isolation, and it is tempting to excuse its faults on compassionate grounds; to see it as a kind of redemptive phoenix rising from Keenan's darkness and suffering. Yet, although the notion of Turlough's protagonist manifesting himself to Keenan as real and whole is a touching one, on paper his appearance is not so convincing.
Keenan has attempted to dissect the soul of a charismatic musician, to identify those stormy and occult impulses which produce artistic genius. Yet his evocation of this ingenue is flat and marred by romantic cliche: ‘[Turlough] seemed always to be questioning the significance of things . . . he was also intelligent . . . yet he was solitary and part of him remained remote.’
Turlough is as mercurial and insubstantial as a hallucination. The central mysteries here - where does greatness come from, and what feeds it? — remain opaque. This opacity is compounded with structural inadequacies: the novel commences as O'Carolan is lying in his deathbed; his autobiography is clumsily relayed through flashbacks, letters and diary entries by supporting characters.
These contrivances eliminate the narrative's dramatic or chronological tension, and the various 'diary entries' reveal that Keenan has confused stultified syntax and simplistic grammar with salt-of-the-earth plain-speaking.
Turlough only comes alive when Keenan evokes the sights, smells and tastes of a pre-Industrial Ireland rife with civil conflict and death. The author's compassion for his homeland relieves his words of artistic cod-psychology and imbues them with an effortless grace: '[Turlough] breathed in the heavy smell of sun-baked iron and stone,
POETRY COLLECTION Robert Crawford & Mick lmlah (eds)
Gracefully poetic at times, but mainly stultified and simplistic
mixed with the scent of damp thatch and burning peat.’
Keenan certainly has an ear for dialogue, rolling out aphorisms, insults and eulogies with a droll, poetic flair. He seems especially sensitive to the way metaphor and analogy can lend vernacular speech a touch of plausible magic. As Turlough's father teaches him how to play the harpsichord, for instance, he admonishes: 'Remember you are releasing music into the air like a bird, not dropping it on to the floor like a dead goose for the pot.’
However, these admittedly wonderful elements cannot redeem Keenan's mishandling of complex emotional situations. Turlough's relationships, sensations, loves, rages and regrets are depicted in such a wooden and didactic manner that, on the whole, one must conclude that this is a novel as flawed as its hero. (Bidisha)
Turlough is pub/ished on Thu 5 Oct
has a remail-cable strike rate throughout the centuries And all the bg hitters are here from Roberts Burns and Fergusson to E(l\‘.'l"S Muir and Morgan WITIIG
Definitive, caring and intelligent
The New Penguin Book Of Scottish Verse (Penguin E20)
It may once 'nai. > been hailed as the 'ie\.'-. rock 'n' roll Vnasn't (.‘Vf‘l‘y’IIllllQ7' but when you consider that poetry has been around since the (5th century, the (()ll‘.l)dl'.8()ll seems a bit lopsided Or at least ll‘lS is the date which Robert Crawford arac: Hit it Illlldl‘ have cnosen as tne:r‘ k;<k-of‘ boirﬁt for a remarkable n.stor'y of Scoth ‘.’t‘l$(’-‘.‘i.l'lllll(l
It all began th Irish immigrant St Columba's ambitious Latin epic A/tus Prosator iTne lvlaker On Highi with the (li‘.'(‘l5(’ likes of St Ronald of Orkney, King James | and Blind Harry taking up the lead of the man who founded the famous Iona monastery Naturally, Anon
modern, thrusting types Such as Don Paterson and Carol Ann Duffy are well represented
However, it's not rust a ‘ong sequence of lll(II\.’l(IleI poets, as the subtle strains and movements of Scottish verse are touched upon, the Gaelic reVival, the quality and breadth of translation, the Scots Renaissance and the poetic emphasis on tryzng to capture the spirit of Glasgow
AL Kennedy notes on the racket that this is 'definit've, caring and irltellzgent' and there are surely few e. ho would argue iBrian Donaldson‘
The New Penguin Book Of Sc ott/sh Verse is pub/ished on Thu 5 Oct See Book Events for National Poetry Day readings,
Debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Matthew Fitt Who he? Hailing from Bonnie Dundee, an alumnus of Edinburgh University and a one-time writer-in-residence at Hugh MacDiarmid’s Brownsbank Cottage, Matthew Fitt now lives in Lanarkshire and diVides his time between writing and teaching. His prevrous work includes Kate O’Shanter’s Ta/e, while his other poetry and short stories have been published throughout the land. His debut Though equally suggestive of wild Hogmanay parties at the Broon family holiday cottage, But n Ben A-Go- 60 actually has the honour of being the first full-length novel to be written entirely in Scots As if this wasn't enough to have the Scottish Arts COUTTCII subsidies department orgasming and reaching for the chequebook, Pitt’s novel is set in a futuristic Scotland which, in 2090 has been almost completely submerged in water following another one of God’s 'this'II-teac‘h-'ern' floods. The few remaining scrrvrvors, including herOic cyberianny Paolo Broon, live in mortal terror of a deadly strain of the AIDS VITUS called ’sangue de verde', more commonly known as Senga
Basically . . Weel, it's no Shakespeare an it's no like onythin ye’ll hae seen at the skale. But hae a wee keek onywey. Even if it's no that bonnie tae the een, lel mind the words yir granny used an ye shouldnae hae ony bother xvi' it It's gey droll, it's fu O' braw makey-ub words like 'Technofelon' an ‘Therapy Bothy’, an it's goat a rare StOry tae, First paragraph test ’tvloarnan. No Sure if !is moarnan. Carina hear the porters. The yOung ane \Vl the bOnnie v0ice, chantn his wey roon. An his gaffer shoutin on him tae wneesht. Thae twa isna in yet. Stull on the Rat:. Ciantin owre their papers. Creeshin doon the hair. Haun an atween their legs.’ Incidentally Most word processors won't recognise Scots words. We'll hae tae dae somethin aboot thon.
But n Ben A-GO-GO is published by Luath Press priced [70 99
S-A 19 Oct 2000 THE UST 105