Ireland’s writer-to-overall population ratio has always been impressive. The little isle known for shamrocks and Guinness has been home to some of the most influential writers of the past couple of centuries. In poetry, there was William Butler Yeats. In drama, Samuel Beckett confused generations of English students with Waiting for Godot. Edna O’Brien brought women’s emotional and sexual politics to the fore. Bram Stoker introduced the world to Dracula! And of course there’s one of my all time favourites: the inimitable, infinitely quotable Oscar Wilde.
Twenty-first century Irish writers have some big shoes to fill, and so far they’ve been easily meeting the challenge. One of the most buzzworthy books this season is Normal People by Sally Rooney, which has catapulted the 28-year-old writer into the general literary consciousness. Less intensely millennial than her previous work Conversations with Friends (but only by a little), Normal People is the type of book you burn through in one sitting—a book The Guardian called “a future classic”. Rooney’s writing is difficult to explain; there’s nothing flashy or unearned in her prose, and yet with a few simple, well-constructed sentences she can take down everything from author readings (please see: “It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.”) to capitalism. Maybe this quality is what makes The Atlantic compare her (in a weirdly spot-on way) to Jane Austen; she is simultaneously participating in and sending up the conventions she is clearly skeptical of. In Austen’s case, it was the role of women, love, and class under the rigid rules of Regency society. In Rooney’s case, it’s the existence of art, love, and class under capitalism. So even though reading Rooney is very much like listening to your cool 20-something artsy friend talk about her life, her work feels like a natural progression of radical writers before her.
In this heart-gripping drama, Casey Affleck portrays a man, Lee Chandler, who came back to his hometown to deal with the passing of his brother. Lee found out that his brother’s will is for him to be his nephew’s guardian. While trying to build a relationship with his teenage nephew, Lee found himself caught in the past that he does not want to remember. Manchester by the Sea is sorrowful and devastating, however, the sadness and nuances in this film are so real that it made me feel very much alive. The story did not try to force a “perfect” ending. Instead, it let the narrative flow, let the events unfold, and paused at a natural place.
I have never really noticed Casey Affleck in any other film, but his performance in Manchester by the Sea is truly memorable. His Golden Globe for the role of Lee Chandler is well-deserved (despite of what he might have done in real life).
Is human intelligence a gift or “an occasionally useful plague”? Two Greek gods granted human intelligence to a group of fifteen dogs, then suddenly these dogs were bewildered and eventually divided into two groups – some flourished with their new skill and some others consciously ran away from it. This deeply moving tale is trying to explore an age old question: “What’s the meaning of life?”
Andre Alexis encapsulates many philosophical questions that intrigue most of us in this delightful but compelling apologue about dogs. Fifteen Dogs is Alexis at his best. It didn’t only win him a Giller but also good sales. Being in the force of promoting reading and writing, I know how important this means to authors and how difficult to achieve. But Alexis did it.
Alexis’ brilliant storytelling can surely stimulate many of your senses . You can vividly picture what the dogs experienced, feel what they felt, and smell what they smelled. You don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy this book. Alexis created some amazing endearing characters – Majnoun, the black poodle who had developed a strong friendship with Nina – his waiting for Nina’s return moves every soul. Prince, our playful poet, roamed along Bloor Street and the beaches and kept his spirits high even when his vision was playing tricks on him. Benjy, cunning but perhaps the most unappealing character, you must see a lot of him in mankind! Your emotions are drawn to these animals naturally while Alexis skillfully unfolds this meditative story with many twists.
Alexis also delves in many debatable concepts, such as individual freedom versus pack conformity and tortured knowledge versus mindless happiness. It’s a metaphysical inquiry about “What does it mean to be alive” – to think, to feel, to love, to suffer, to question and to answer? It is a quest to discover the beauty and the perils of human consciousness.
I must also draw the attention of the Vaughan poetry lovers to the poems composed mostly by Prince and other dogs in the book. Each poem in the book contains one of the dogs’ names – check out the interesting explanation on page 173!
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to share another intriguing animal story A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdams – a quite different writing approach, but you will probably be devastated by little Looee’s story.
Below are a few questions offered by Coach House Books for discussion:
- Hermes and Apollo’s wager is decided by whether or not one of the dogs is happy at the moment of its death. Is it fair to evaluate the quality of one’s life by the quality of one’s end-of-life? How accurate of an evaluation?
- Who is more cruel, the gods or the dogs? Why?
- Some readers find themselves more moved by the deaths of the fifteen dogs than they would have been if it had been fifteen humans. Why do we sometimes have more compassion for animals than people? Can you think of examples of this in the real world?