Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, edited by Declan Burke

DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY is an anthology edited by Declan Burke, filled with brilliant ideas and surprising points of view, an examination of Irish crime literature by those who now write it, packed with verve and humor that sparkles, a treasure chest of emerald noir.

The book consists of thirty selections (counting Professor Ian Campbell Ross's introductory essay on the history of Irish crime fiction), and it is divided into three parts, Out of the Past, Thieves Like Us, and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.  Some of the essays are really literary short stories, but they each make a point that fits nicely into this volume.  Ireland's treasured past is literary, but crime novels bring it into the present, often in a literary way.

There are brief opening notes by editor/novelist Declan Burke himself and by the well known American mystery novelist, Michael Connolly, and at the end of the book there is a long list of Irish crime books, a survey of suggested Irish crime reading.  You will want to keep a notebook handy for jotting down the names of newly discovered authors.

Some of them I had already discovered.  I reviewed Alan Glynn's Winterland at this link, and I can't wait to get a look at his newest one, to be published in September.

I also reviewed Eoin McNamee's Resurrection Man at this link.  In here, McNamee eloquently explains how he melds his fiction to the actual history he has researched.  If you've already read his stunning novel, Orchid Blue, this essay will open your eyes to the uncanny brilliance behind McNamee's art.  The case involves a Judge, and McNamee adroitly uses the particular to express the universal:

"What we understand to be noir has the mark of John Calvin on it.  The universe is a cold and pre-determined place.  Your fate is decided before you set yourself to defraud your employer or catch a faithless eye across a downtown cocktail bar.'

"It is the essence of the noir hero to go among the damned, to relate to them, to be one of the damned himself.  He sets himself...against the judge, knowing that the verdict has already been reached."

I first became aware of Irish noir when visiting one of my favorite websites, the Rap Sheet, whose proprietor led me to the novels of Ken Bruen and John Connolly, both of whom have pieces in here.  Later I found the websites of Irish authors Declan Burke, at this link, and of Adrian McKinty, here, both of them self-effacing men and promising authors with an intriguing backlist of novels I'd yet to read. 

Try them, you'll like them too.  Today, on Declan Burke's site, you can read Declan Hughes essay on the forming of his own identity, on how the reading of American books and the viewing of so much American film and television has marked him as American as well.  The question of national identity is taken up by several authors in this volume, and their different answers may surprise you.

Listen to Ingrid Black:

"Being Irish . . .was a collection of less-than-groundbreaking reflections by a hundred people, famous and otherwise, on what it meant to them to be one of God's chosen people.  They didn't put it quite like that, of course, but there was no mistaking the assumption underlying a depressingly large proportion of the contributions, namely that being Irish was an awe-inspiring achievement altogether, and that those born under a green star were sensitive, poetic souls with a superhuman capacity for empathetic engagement with the world, intimately connected to history and their native land, thirsting for justice and peace like no race before. . .It made How The Irish Saved Civilization look modest by comparison."

You should read the entire essay and maybe rethink what Irish is and what it isn't.  I'm not sure that we are capable of defining a completely true national identity.  Perhaps in some kind of variation of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, true identity can only gauged by going outside the system.

But there are many more perspectives in here, different points of view no less incisive and wise.  Declan Burke had a good eye for the way this multifaceted book should be organized.  It is not past, present, and future exactly, for there is yin in the yang and the borders between the sections are blurred.  And that is as it should be.

Award winning novelist Tana French, in an interview here, wisely says that "identity gets created at the crossroads between past and present," and that neither one can be suppressed or denied.  And Brian McGilloway has an astute essay in here relating to that, "Walking The Tightrope:  The Border In Irish Fiction."

And I think that's the right answer, that our identity--American, Irish, or whatever--lies in the crossroads of then and now.  We make our tomorrows out of that identity.  Every morning we arise, grateful for yet another opportunity to start things anew.  Another day in paradise, no matter where we are.

It is a great day for the Irish.  Read this book and you'll see why.

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