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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



At War by Flann O'Brien (Dalkey Archive Press) Like The Best of Myles and Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn, At War is a collection of Flann O'Brien's columns written for the Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. Taken from the war years of 1940-45, these writ­ings provide plenty of acerbic wit and persistent prodding of "the good people of Ireland." And in typical O'Brien fashion, no one is safe from his opinionated attacks. His oftentimes hysterical musings include discussions of theater, what it means to be Irish, ideas for alterna­tive pubs and liquors, advice for children, and ways to improve the home.

Excerpt: Not everything is finite, competent and intelligible. For example, I often rise in the morning, dress swiftly, but with care, and walk through the glass doors to where my breakfast awaits on exquisite gold plate that is hallowed with a patina conferred by numberless ancestral banquetings. But the food is left untouched. Observe the quick nervous movements of my patent leather shoes as they pick a fastidious path through the coarse mane of the carpet, an Axminster job that was picked up for a song in London's Lime street twenty-eight golden years ago. I have now crossed the floor. I am standing beside the gramophone, and with eagle eye I range the deer park. The face is set with a hard contemplative frown, the body as utterly motionless as a statue in the Phoenix Park. The eyes search on as if looking for something in the calm distant trees. Then comes some change. An enigmatic smile steals upon the face. The figure turns slowly towards the gramophone. The polished sound-box, poised deftly between finger and pink thumb, mir­rors the pale turquoise nails. In a moment `Home on the Range' floods out into the still morning. The food cools despairingly on the table, and, in the old-world rose garden outside, old George desists for a moment from his digging to reflect once again that it is a great pity about the master. He waits philo­sophically for the crash. And it comes in due time. The record is stopped, carefully removed, smashed to atoms and danced on, to the accompaniment of the sort of cries one would hear from a wild beast.

The Otherworld Voyage in Irish Literature and History edited by Jonathan Wooding (Four Courts Press) Prominent in the literature of early Ireland are the tales known as echtrai (adventures) and immrama (voyages), stories telling of journeys to an otherworld or paradise. These tales have long held a fascination for both scholars and general readers, despite the absence of a convenient introductory volume to the genre.

This anthology presents a selection of the most important critical studies of the voyage genre along with some new studies of key aspects. A general introduction surveys the history and priorities of investigation into the genre and a comprehensive bibliography provides an important tool for further study.

Containing a selection of the most important critical studies for an understanding of the Irish voyage tales, this anthology will be of interest and use to teachers and students of early Irish history and literature, comparative literature and mythology.

Jonathan Wooding is lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and the Department of History at the University of Wales, Lampeter.`His previous publications include Communication and Commerce along the Western SealanesAD 400‑800 (1996), The Vikings (1998) and CelticAustralian Identities (2000).

This volume presents a selection of studies, spanning nearly a century,  concerning early Irish voyage literature and its social as well as religious context. If, in the words of Walahfrid Strabo, exile in foreign lands (peregrinatio) was `second nature' for the Irish, the voyage tales are the powerful literary evocation of that exile.' Medieval Europeans evidently found the vision of the Irish as pilgrims and exiles to be an attractive one. 125 manuscript copies of the most famous of the voyage tales, the Latin Nauigatio sancti Brendani abbatis (`Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot'), are scattered across the length and breadth of Europe. These bear witness to the impact of the voyage genre upon European literature .z The Irish voyage tale was one of the most frequently adapted and bowdlerised of medieval European genres and has continued in its popularity from the middle ages to the present day .3 Through the medium of iconography and popular literature, St Brendan remains the archetype of the Irish exile for a more recent Irish diaspora.

This continuing reputation of the `navigator saint' and the popularity of his legend, however, has perhaps had the effect of relegating the actual voyage narratives to the margins of critical attention. The Latin Nauigatio Brendani and the four lengthy immram tales in Irish are still available only in cumbersome or dated editions. They mostly remain texts with which even students of Celtic literature are more familiar in general terms than through focused reading. This is curious for works which are amongst the most attractive and accessible of early Irish narratives.

Irish Classics by Declan Kiberd (Convergences: Harvard University Press) This penetrating collection of essays about Irish literary history offers a quirky overview of much of Irish literature in it English and Gaelic incarnations. One country, two languages, and a sequence of great artists in every genera­tion. From the Gaelic bards to the Belfast Agreement, Irish writers have drawn equally on two traditions to heal the rifts of their land.

A celebration of the enduring Irish clas­sics, this book by one of their most elo­quent and adept readers offers an unusual­ly brilliant and accessible survey of the greatest works since 1600 in Gaelic and English. Together, they have shaped one of the world's most original literary cultures.

For the great seventeenth‑ and eigh­teenth‑century Gaelic poems of disposses­sion, and for later work in that language, Declan Kiberd provides vivid and idiomatic translations into English. Irish poets and writers, early and modern, con­fronted modernity as a cataclysm and responded by using traditional forms in novel and radical ways. Kiberd's book embraces the works of the Gaelic bards, Yeats, Synge, Beckett, and Joyce; the myths such as the Cuchulain story, the lament for Art O'Laoghaire, and Dracula; and works that have exerted a palpable influence on the course of human action, such as Swift's Drapier's Lettersl the speeches of Edmund Burke, or the autobi­ography of Wolfe Tone. The book closes with a moving and daring coda on the Anglo‑Irish agreement, claiming that the seeds of such a settlement were sown in the works of Irish literature.

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