Friday, March 16, 2007
Winner of this year's Irish Book Award for fiction is Patrick McCabe's Winterwood, which I read before Christmas, thought about reviewing here, and then didn't bother with as it was yet another patchy and unremarkable work by the once-great Monaghan novelist. The novel tells the tale of a journalist whose small-town mentor has been convicted of child abuse and murder and who later turns to the dark side himself, spiriting his own daughter away after the break-up of his marriage and changing his identity.
Many have admired the intensity of McCabe's writing in this and his other recent novels and also his ability to penetrate troubled and deranged minds. It is true that he is unique among contemporary Irish writers in this way but ever since Breakfast on Pluto, he has strayed a little too far away from the real world, and the reality of contemporary Ireland to entirely convince. His two masterpieces, The Butcher Boy and The Dead School (and even the more modest earlier novel Carn) were inextricably allied to social reality, while of course presenting an exaggerated form of it - the Gay Byrne-esque talk show host Terry Krash being a particularly memorable example. Winterwood on the other hand presents an Ireland that is only flittingly recognisable, and McCabe has an irritating tendency to stretch the Celtic Tiger years a little too thin - too often one is led to imagine that they started in the late 1980s. His jokes have also got tiresome of late, his hyperactive pseudo-knowing narrative voice over-familiar. The problem with McCabe reminds me of what Anthony Lane said about the flamboyant films of the Canadian Guy Maddin a few years back: 'Maybe he should calm down a bit, it's not as if anyone's going to mistake his films for anybody else's'.
Winterwood has garnered largely positive reviews, including one by Irvine Welsh (which might not be considered welcome by many writers) but one has to seriously ask is this the best fiction Ireland has produced in the past year? I haven't read much else Irish published in that time but surely the period has not been so lean in terms of quality?