WARRENPOINT by Denis Donoghue


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Donoghue (English/New York Univ.), best known for studies of Yeats, Swift, and Emily Dickinson, here presents a portrait of the critic as a young man, coming to intellectual maturity in Warrenpoint, a Northern Ireland seaside resort. Don't expect any flights of Celtic lyricism or humor in this slender memoir. Though Donoghue's life and situation have the engaging elements of a critic's coming-of-age story à la Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City, his rarefied intelligence sorely lacks the juices of life that would allow him to create such a work. At times, even he senses this (""I wonder have I lived a life without air, not enough oxygen or light or ease or fantasy""). Donoghue resents the injustice done his father--a Royal Ulster Constabulary sergeant denied further advancement in that pre-Troubles age because of his Catholicism--yet fails to convey adequately the honesty and affection he claims his father possessed behind a wall of taciturnity. Reticence seems part of the son's genetic inheritance from his father. For instance, after Donoghue reveals that the first thing he distinctly remembers is the death of his 14-month-old brother, he recalls only being kept from the funeral. Although Donoghue has much of interest to say about such matters as his orthodox Catholic school upbringing, his futile attempt to master the violin, and using names to tell Ulster Catholics from Protestants, he rarely endows his material with either the alienation or affection that might animate it. Perhaps due to his admitted inability either ""to tell a story or even to recall one,"" this intellectual autobiography is barren of specific, sensory detail, and reveals only the critic's fatal addiction to quotations. Dry recollections that illuminate a mind, but not a life or a world.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf