Perhaps it’s because I was recently on Achill Island for a few weeks that I found the descriptions in Synge’s book The Aran Islands so vivid. And maybe it’s just because they are so clearly set down and as fresh today as when Synge wrote them over a hundred years ago. Colm Tobin is quoted on the cover as saying that ‘unlike most travel books of 100 years ago, it has not dated at all’. I haven’t read many tavel books of 100 years ago, but I’ll wager he is right. Again, it’s the freshness of the writing that strikes a reader immediately. There is no sense of time having elapsed. One feels he is talking to you now.
Of course he is not talking to you now. Lots of things must have changed since his time. I haven’t been to the Aran Islands myself yet, but there were some changes I saw in Achill that were quite recent, and not for the better. Lots and lots and lots of new holiday homes everywhere, for instance. And no attempts made to keep the decor at one with the scenery. However, the scenery is so rugged and dominant that it remains largely unspoiled. Synge discovered the same type of wild Irish Island scenery on Aran, and his descriptions are wonderful.
‘[The rain] has cleared, and the sun is shining with a luminous warmth that makes the whole island glisten with the splendour of a gem and fills the sea and sky with a radiance.
I have come out to lie on the rocks where I have the black edge of the north island in front of me, Galway Bay, too blue almost to look at, on my right, the Atlantic on my left, a perpendicular cliff under my ankles and over me innumerable gulls that chase each other in a white cirrus of wings…’
It was W.B. Yeats that advised him to get out of Paris and go to the Islands:
‘Give up Paris … Go to the Aran islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves; express a life that has found never expression’.
And so he went and garnered the material for his plays. And the rest is … great literature.
This edition has the original illustrations by Jack Yeats (which first appeared in 1907) and they are truly marvellous and turn the book into something more than just a book. As Julian Bell says in his Foreword ‘The bold graphic work needs little commentary’. So that’s enough from me. Go out and buy this book. NOW!
Be pepared to be AFRAID. Very AFRAID… No, no! Come back! … It’s not that bad! But plenty to listen to (click HERE) as regards poetic and prose-poetic offerings for the season that’s in it. Anne Tannam, Bernie O’Reilly, Pauline Fayne, John W. Sexton, Karl Parkinson and Anne Morgan deliver some haunting moments (pun intended) in Chapters Bookstore. Oran Ryan from the Seven Towers Agency does the MC honours and the reading was broadcast on Liffey Sound 96.4 FM last Tuesday (18.10.2011) on my programme ‘Behind the Lines’ (every Tuesday 8.00pm and available on the station website http://www.liffeysoundfm.ie). Because of the podcast time restriction I couldn’t squeeze in Ross Hattaway. I will include him another time. He also had some fine work to deliver on the evening. Click on the podcast (see above) and see what you think.
Attended an intriguing talk by Jonathen Williams, the well-known literary agent, recently on the subject of book titles. A good title is a crucial part of getting your book off the shelf and into the hands of a prospective buyer. That’s an important stage on the road to it’s being bought. Lots more in the same vein from Jonathen and all of his talk a salutary reminder of the demands of the market place, all of it plain common sense but liable to take a back seat as we (poetasters especially) brood about the ‘shape’ and ‘style’ of our creations.
A title I always thought was a good one was ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ (by George and Weedon Grossmith, 1892) the word ”Diary’ gives the impression of a relaxing read (which it is) and the ‘Nobody’ bit arrests the interest because… well, how could there be anything of interest about a ‘nobody’? Again, I think there’s a good chance a browser (not the internet kind) would pluck the book from the shelves and look inside.
On the other hand ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ is a ‘classic’ and therefore might probably be avoided
by many on that score. Besides, most bookshops have shelves reserved fo rthe ‘classics’ way down at the back of the store where the hand of man rarely sets foot. What about a more up to date example? What about Dorian Lynskey (no relation, unfortunately)? His book ’33 Revolutions per Minute’ is very well-titled. Of course, unless you know that the subtitle is ‘A history of protest Songs’ and you remember that vinyle LPs (long playing records) had a speed of 33revolutions per minute, you might not get the message. Still, I think it’s a great title. It’s also a great book and a must for anyone remotely interested in the way the protest movement of the late 50s and 60s cascaded into song and the way that protest-song ‘genre’ was finally snuffed out by commercial exploitation. There’s a great chapter in it on Bob Dylan’s great song ‘the Gates of Eden‘, by the way.