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edited by Colm TóibínColm Toibin

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-89108-8
Publisher: Viking

Any anthology that weighs in at over 1,000 pages is aiming for broad appeal, and any 1,000-page anthology of Irish fiction will probably achieve it. Literary brilliance is one of the most enduring and cherished of Irish stereotypes, after all'as hokey and inescapable a part of the national landscape as pubs and bad weather'but Toibin manages to keep the beer from turning green in his judicious and very comprehensive selection that encompasses more than a hundred authors from the 17th century to the present. In his introduction, Toibin maintains that 'the purpose of much Irish fiction, it seems, is to become involved in the Irish argument, and the purpose of much Irish criticism has been to relate the fiction to the argument.' The argument, of course, is a political one ultimately, and Toibin makes the further claim that this has bedeviled Irish letters for centuries, to such an extent 'that those writers who have sought . . . to deal with the individual mood, however trivial, perverse and fleeting, seem now oddly heroic and hard to place.' James Joyce is the most famous example of such 'heroism' in modern times, yet he does not appear to lack company'least of all in these pages. The authors Toibin brings forth range from the canonical (Jonathan Swift) to the trendy (Roddy Doyle) to the obscure (Robert Tessel), and they all participate, willingly or not, in the argument Toibin describes. And arguing is one of the things the Irish do best. A magisterial collection, nicely arranged and invaluable to anyone interested in Irish literature. Toibin’s introduction will generate a fair amount of controversy, but it would be hard to fault him as an editor.