“Why Read? The role of writers and books in the 21st century” was the overall theme of an international symposium sponsored by the Hellenic Authors’ Society in cooperation with the Columbia University Institute of Comparative Literature & Society and the Athens University Faculty of English Language & Literature, held in Athens on October 18 and 19, 2018.
In January 1953 a new play by a new playwright was premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. It was entitled En Attendant Godot and was written by Samuel Beckett. The play caused a sensation and questions were soon raised about its author. Since Godot was written in French, the assumption was that the author was also French. When he appeared and began speaking in English, the listeners then presumed he was English. It emerged, however, that Samuel Beckett was an emigré Irishman, born in Dublin in 1906; by 1953 he was living in Paris and writing in French. En Attendant Godot appeared to come from nowhere, without visible or obvious antecedents.
Paraic O’Donnell distinguished himself with his début novel The Maker of Swans (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016) as one of the finest of his generation of novelists in Ireland. This accolade is sustained with the appearance of his new novel, The House on Vesper Sands. The sheer quality of his writing, coupled with his sense of how to grasp the reader in a compelling storyline, identifies him as a novelist of ingenuity, poetry and semantic and linguistic brilliance.
The Irish poet Richard Murphy (1927-2018) kept a series of prose Notebooks throughout his writing life in order to develop and hone materials for his poetry. Some excerpts from these Notebooks have been published as In Search of Poetry (Clutag Press, 2017) and we now have privileged insight into a series of meditations by Murphy on monumental structures that he used in his collection The Price of Stone (Faber & Faber, 1985) to ‘give voice’ to his poetic concerns. Each stone monument is a persona that speaks on behalf of the poet, a technique of displacement that enables Murphy to avoid any overt confessionalism. Many of them are notably redundant structures with no living relevance in contemporary (1980s) Dublin, or for the 21st century. The Wellington Testimonial in Phoenix Park, for example, speaks ‘about itself today … as a monument isolated in a country and a century that have changed … celebrating things or people that nobody remembers …’ (Murphy 2017,136) and it appears as ‘an Anglo-Irish obelisk, an immense landmark that has lost its purpose but kept its style’(139)