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A prolific exegete ruminates on the practice of interpreting literature. New York University's Donoghue (Walter Pater, 1995; Warrenpoint, 1990; etc.) refers to the practice simply as ""reading,"" since any reading of a poem or story entails interpretive understanding. After an essay on his Irish origins, the next 7 of the book's 15 chapters somewhat haphazardly explore academic controversies of the last 30 years. They come a bit late in the day, mostly rehashing the controversies fomented in American universities by the theories of Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Stanley Fish, and a few others. Readers already familiar (or fed up) with the topic of literary deconstruction are likely to feel put upon by these unnecessary forays onto well-trampled turf. What saves the book, though, are Donoghue's, richly satisfying reflections on particular works. By now--this is his 23rd book--it is plain that Donoghue is one of our foremost practical critics writing in the tradition of people like T.S. Eliot and R.P. Blackmur. Interpretation is what Donoghue does best. In the second half he concentrates his attentions above all on the Irish, reading for us Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the ""Nausicaa"" chapter of Joyce's Ulysses, Yeats's poems ""Leda and the Swan"" and ""Coole and Ballylee, 1931."" He also offers essays on Macbeth and Othello, on Wordsworth's The Prelude, and on Walter Pater. But the outstanding ""reading"" that he offers, one which takes pride of place as the volume's concluding piece, deals with Cormac McCarthy's novel of 1985, Blood Meridian. McCarthy is a novelist more praised than understood. Donoghue's exemplary essay on him is certain to become a classic. Donoghue is an urbane reader and elegant stylist. His interpretations will challenge and even entertain serious readers of all stripes.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0300074662
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.