Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

“Talk about books” newsletter: year 2, first quarter

During the first year of my newsletter, Talk about books, I posted updates here at roughly quarterly intervals (every 6 or 7 issues) summing up what I’d been posting and giving an indication of my intentions for the months coming up. I’ve just posted the seventh issue of the second year. These are the titles and topics of my posts since the last update:

“A villain not to be forsworn”: The Revenger’s Tragedy
A malcontent who is prepared to commit multiple murders to avenge the death of his betrothed, persists in an attempt to corrupt his own sister, with their mother’s help, rather than break his oath. Why does he value his oath above many lives, including his own?

“An exemplary case of unacknowledged self-persuasion”: Ian McEwan, Enduring Love
Ian McEwan’s 1997 novel is (apart from a few chapters) the first-person narrative of Joe Rose, a successful science journalist and popularizer of scientific topics from dinosaurs to quantum mechanics, who suffers a crisis when he finds himself unwittingly taking part in an accidental but fatal “game” of Prisoner’s Dilemma.

An infant in its cradle: William Blake’s prophetic serial killers: Michael Dibdin, Dark Spectre
Dibdin’s first US-set novel, Dark Spectre (1995), features a group of serial killers who believe they’re inspired by William Blake. But the resemblances to Francis Dolarhyde are mostly superficial. Is Dibdin’s novel a critique of Thomas Harris’s?

You’ve got a right to be angry: Salman Rushdie, Fury
Like some of his earlier fiction, notably Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie’s novel Fury (2001) is driven by anger. But it’s a more diffuse, less directed anger than in the earlier novel. Something has changed.

Peter Abrahams’s impaired heroes: Oblivion, Nerve Damage and Delusion
Three novels from the mid 2000s by Stephen King’s “favorite American suspense novelist”, featuring protagonists who have the odds stacked against them, even more so than is usual in suspense fiction.

Andrew Marvell, “A Dialogue between the Soul and Body”: “Mine own precipice I go”
Marvell shows the two different parts of the human individual complaining bitterly about each other. But they are more alike, and more deeply interdependent, than either will admit.

“After all, Zen was just a policeman”: The moral trajectory of Michael Dibdin’s Venetian detective
If you don’t read Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen books in order, you might think the detective is an unusually inconsistent series character. But he gradually becomes less law-abiding from book to book, over the first 8 novels in the series.

Shortly after I posted the Marvell issue, Manton Reece, the creator of, introduced a newsletter feature and I decided to move “Talk about books” there from Substack. The move ran into some glitches but I’m pleased with the result.

I’ve sketched out my rough plans up to the end of June. They include the first (and maybe second) of a number of posts about spy fiction; more discussion of short stories (not all of them Irish this time); a look at Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant; and prison and prisoners in Peter Abrahams’s novels. The next issue (unless I get distracted by something else in the meantime) will be about the two middle books in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, Faithful Place and Broken Harbour.

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Posted by Art, 26-Feb-2022.