Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

“Talk about books”: Issues 34 to 39 inclusive

My newsletter, “Talk about books”, has reached the midpoint of its second year, with six fortnightly issues having gone out since my previous update in February. Those 6 cover a reasonably wide range, I think. I was wary of having two posts about short stories, but I’m pleased with both and wouldn’t want to lose either of them. I had originally intended to keep the Caoilinn Hughes issue for later but moved it up when I had to postpone the discussion of Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant for two weeks because I didn’t get my rereading done on time.

The most recent issue is about a poem by Empson that wasn’t published in his lifetime and is arguably of more interest as a biographical source document than as a literary work. Reading it, and reading about it in John Haffenden’s biography of Empson, made me realize that Empson, though his career as a poet was brief, changed poetic direction more than once. I’ll be taking a closer look at the poems from his second collection, though perhaps not for the newsletter.

Here are the most recent posts, in reverse chronological order:

And not to yield: William Empson, “The Wife Is Praised”
18-May-2022: William Empson’s wife, Hetta (née Crouse), had a long-standing practice of taking younger male lovers. Her husband wanted to join in the fun. So naturally he wrote her a poem, his second-longest.

“Solemn oaths undone in cruel slaughter”: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
04-May-2022: The first of Ishiguro’s novels not to have the protagonist as a first-person narrator examines the founding myths of the English and Welsh nations and imagines a perfidious King Arthur.

Ephemeral Woman in waterlogged landscape: Short stories by Caoilinn Hughes
20-Apr-2022: Though Caoilinn Hughes’s short stories have won prizes, they have not been published in a collection. I list 8 stories that can be read online, and discuss 3 of them.

Reluctant defectors: Graham Greene’s The Human Factor and John le Carré’s Smiley’s People
06-Apr-2022: Two novels from the late 1970s by “spymasters” Graham Greene and John le Carré show (in rather different ways) the futility, waste, brutality and frustration of spying.

Candia McWilliam, Wait Till I Tell You
23-Mar-2022: Candia McWilliam writes in an oblique style, which sometimes leaves the reader unsure what is supposed to have happened, combined with a very satisfying level of particularity and detail.

Fractured spaces: Tana French, Faithful Place and Broken Harbour
09-Mar-2022: In Faithful Place, two separate Dublins poke through the holes in each other; similarly, Broken Harbour features two incompatible locations attempting to occupy the same space.

In the next three months, I’m planning to return to spy fiction, look at Peter Abrahams’s treatment of prisons and prisoners (as promised in my previous post on his novels), examine some more short stories and who knows what else? And, in the next issue, no. 40, due on 1 June, I’ll finally get around to the last two books in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.

Posted by Art on 23-May-2022.