The first meeting of our book club comprised of a gathering of us interns here at the Irish Writers’ Centre. High up on the fourth floor, in a little room usually given over to poetry workshops, we sat around tables, books on desk, expectant and ready to rock ‘n’ roll. We uncapped and uncorked a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white, passed around a plate of biscuits and waited to see if anyone else would show up. The Parnell Square Readers is open to the public. We encourage people to come and join us. But after a while of giddy munching, chattering and sipping amongst ourselves, it was clear that no one else would show up. Ah well, work in progress.
Every now and then a faint tremor of boardroom-type etiquette swept through the room, but with our collective will we quickly dispelled the ever-present seduction of formality, hierarchy and interpersonal competitiveness that usually haunt these types of things. I shivered and swore to myself that, ‘if this thing gets ridiculous, I’m outta here’.
First one up, All Names Have Been Changed by Claire Kilroy. So here, transcribed from our Dictaphone recording of our round-table discussion, and presented in a heavily edited and dramatic format, is our opinions, insights, praise and criticism of the book
—Where’s the wine?
—I mean did you think Glynn was realistic?
—Oh, let’s not start talking about realism already
—It was slow to start off
—Yes, I found that too
—I wouldn’t have read past page fifty if it wasn’t something that I had to do for this
—I’m glad I stuck with it though.
—Yeah, it really takes off after the description of the bonfire on Halloween
—Yeah, that was great.
—Really well done
—You could see her skill as a writer then, once she allowed herself the time to stick with a scene for more than a page. I really liked—
—No the red, pass the red, the red! I don’t drink white in the evenings.
—The reported speech at the beginning really bugged me though
—What about the picture of Dublin it gives?
—Grim, wet, full of strife and disappointment, not like today!
—I mean, there’s more than just the pubs today.
—Well, that’s what I think anyways.
—And what about all the use of allusion?
—The way the name of every chapter comes from something else like a song or a poem of a novel?
—Yeah, that, and references to Joyce and Beckett
—I guess it’s in keeping with the characters and their world.
—Give us a Jammy Dodger.
—Has anyone read her other books?
—No, but I’d like to now.
—Does anyone want to say anything about the characters? What about the narrative voice. Written by a female, Declan, a male protagonist, did it work? Did you believe you were in a young man’s head?
—And what about this obsession theme, the myth, the cult of personality. Does it hold up? I made a note around page forty which says, here, hang on, where is it?
—Is that heater on? Is anyone else cold?
—Yes, here it is, ‘If this character is obsessional shouldn’t there be more?’
—It’s hard to write about a great writer I think
—It’s all the unsaid things in this novel that I liked. Here’s a famous Irish writer, whose obviously hit-rock bottom, sitting amongst the damp and lost and ambitious, I think its quite touching, this picture of a pathetic genius, who, you can imagine, if he pulled himself through, could again be great. But when we meet him, he is his furthest from greatness. That’s what I like. You meet him when writing isn’t working for him and because of that he’s reckless, self-destructive. I think she pulled it off.
—Yeah, but the tortured genius? The Blake references? His demons?
—But it was well written!
—I liked Giz. The description of his brain, ‘like grey chewed gum’. He was interesting.
—Yeah, and the photo of him from his Communion on the stolen televisions! Brilliant.
—What is that, Pinot Noir? Oh yeah, that’s juicy! Gimme a biccy? Why don’t we have crackers and cheese at this?
—Does she deal with the heroin epidemic in the 80s in Dublin that the sleeve talks about?
—Implicitly, yes, its there in the background. The beating Giz gets at the end.
—I guess I was expecting more.
—Doesn’t Giz mug Declan with a syringe?
—Yeah, kinda, but not really. Did she even need it? Even in the background?
—What’s that man doing on the building over there?
—Over there, out the window. On the building. Over there!
—Oh yeah. I don’t know. Looks like he’s drilling.
—What are we reading next week? Banville?
—What about the ending?
—I thought it was a fantasy or a dream.
—Oh, it was terrible! I couldn’t believe she tacked that on!
—It wasn’t that bad.
—What about the other characters. We haven’t talked about them. I thought Aisling was interesting. But Faye, she didn’t really figure at all, did she?
—But what about the ending. What did you—