Bits from books

Below are two vignettes from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, a collection of edited radio interviews with nine women writers. The interviews were conducted by John Quinn, and centred on childhood in Ireland. In his introduction, Quinn writes that “because radio and print are such different media there are things that one can do which the other cannot. If the writers featured in this book were each commissioned to write an essay on their childhood, it would be a very different book.”

In the foreword, Seamus Heaney describes the invention of a narrative for one’s childhood as “to some extent a creative discovery of the self”. All the contributing writers offered a very interesting and mostly spontaneous glimpse of their formative years on the island, full of interesting recollections and some very funny anecdotes:

There were no books at all in our house. My mother was extremely suspicious of literature because she thought it was bad and could lead to sin. My father wasn’t interested in books. Hi reading was confined to the Irish Field and bloodstock manuals. There was no travelling library in our locality then. There were simply no books. Once, when someone in the village actually got a copy of Rebecca, there was such an avidity for it that it was loaned by the page. Unfortunately you would get page 84 and then page 103. As a result, I did not grasp the story of Rebecca for ages.

Edna O’Brien

I discovered Shakespeare largely through Anew McMaster’s travelling players. When he came to Lismore with Hamlet, that was really one of the highlights of my youth. I was so excited that I couldn’t go home to bed. I had to cycle round the countryside for most of the night recovering from that performance.

Dervla Murphy

8 Responses to Bits from books

  1. Wow, Rebecca must have turned into a Dadaist manifesto!

  2. Stan says:

    Yes Jams, or a Dadaist novel! It’s such a curious little story. I wonder whose idea it was, and how systematically it was carried out. And did anyone give up out of frustration and confusion, or were the readers all glad to get what they could? And so on.

  3. Paul Duane says:

    Would it be too much to suggest that Edna O’B’s wonderful story has a bit of Macondo about it – I mean, she might have embellished it just a tiny little bit? Mad and all as rural Ireland has always been, that sounds just totally batshit.

  4. Stan says:

    She probably did, Paul — it happens to every story. Maybe I got a little carried away in my last comment! It seems likely, though, that there is at least a smidgen of truth in the tale, hence my curiosity for more details. The embellishments make it more cinematic, I think.

  5. Ah, there’s a book that passed me right by (someone probably turned that page of book reviews from the newspaper into paper planes before I had read it, echoing Edna O’Brien’s experience), and one I’d likely enjoy, despite the involvement of Seamus Heaney. It’s now on the purchase list, with thanks for the tip.

  6. Stan says:

    Pretty far west: You’re welcome. It’s a short but very enjoyable read. It may be out of print now, and in any case I’ll happily lend it to you — email me if you want to arrange a book swap!

  7. Thanks for the kind offer, Stan! My usual sources for hard to find books are my book-hoarding sister and the old reliable Abebooks, but failing those a book swap sounds good.

  8. Stan says:

    Another option might be Charlie Byrne’s: they have at least three copies at the moment. If there was just one I’d have bought it for you, but multiple copies are unlikely to disappear in a hurry!

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