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10 posts from December 2010

Dec 29, 2010

Re: Joyce, Episode 29. James Street

A key is found, a door opened, breakfast is served, and various profanities are narrowly avoided, for once.

Dec 22, 2010

Re: Joyce, Episode 28. The Black Panther Returns

We sit down to a fortified breakfast, and meet Haines and his dream. Also: more blasphemy.

Dec 20, 2010

Publishers Weekly Reviews The Matchmaker of Kenmare

Cover-matchmakerIn Delaney's panoramic sequel to Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, matchmaker Kate Begley plies her profession in neutral WWII Ireland. Into her life come Venetia Kelly narrator Ben MacCarthy, whose wife has gone missing, and Charles Miller, a U.S. intelligence officer who sends Kate and Ben on a secret assignment to France. Upon their return, Kate and Charles marry, but after D-Day, Charles disappears while on a dangerous mission, and Kate enlists Ben's help in finding him. They travel to France and Germany, where they stumble across the German army about to launch its last-gasp assault in the Ardennes and end up questioning the wisdom of remaining neutral in the face of overwhelming evil. An expert at mining Irish lore for congenial fiction, Delaney spins an exciting yarn of romance and intrigue, and, in Kate, he has created an indomitable, unforgettable character. Though the novel's leisurely pace is at odds with the wartime plot (and the subplot about Ben's missing wife will be confusing to those not familiar with the previous book), Delaney wrings the pulp out of a Jack Higgins–like premise and turns it into something more satisfyingly literary. (Feb.)

Dec 17, 2010

And The "Santa Baby" Winner is...

It's twelve noon EST and the moment has come to announce the winner of the Santa Challenge. The judging produced complex thoughts, because the Top Ten had many complexities within it. Selecting a winner from this mixed bag required a criterion - how deep and wide must the reach be for the memoir to earn back its advance? I decided that the best memoirists are those who connect most universally; even if their experience is so far out of our own daily (in this case, annual) reach, the autobiography should begin with something that speaks to us all - for good or ill. Given the emotion surrounding Santa, I opted for a deep truth generated by his very existence. For many, the very name "Santa Claus," even the hint of a "ho, ho, ho," or the jingling of a distant sleighbell high up, late at night, brings with it a re-visiting of trauma; perhaps a hurt, glassy tear in the eye; or a bitter, incurable feeling of betrayal. Accordingly the winner is:

The first lie your parents ever told you, was probably about me.

And once the address is furnished to us, a copy of Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales will be sent; mailmen, or fedex/ups people will deliver it, not faux-jolly little gnarled creatures in green suits. Congratulations, PNicholson - and thank you for a profound, disturbing but searingly honest representation of a man about whom I still feel deeply ambivalent, who wounded me so deeply when I was fifteen.

Dec 16, 2010

Starred Kirkus Review for The Matchmaker of Kenmare

Review Date: January 1, 2011
Publication Date: February 8, 2011

"Years after his Irish vaudeville adventures in Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show (2010), 29-year-old Ben McCarthy loses his heart to an eccentrically spunky young matchmaker who keeps him platonically glued to her side as she searches for her missing new husband, an American captain, in war-torn Europe.

"McCarthy, who works for a government folklore commission, is collecting material on matchmakers in Ireland when he meets his match in Kate Begley. Their unusually intimate friendship, which requires them to sleep naked together so they know each other (almost) to the fullest, is well-timed. Ben is haunted by the disappearance of his wife Venetia, a mystery that was never solved. Four years into World War II, known as "The Emergency" in Ireland, a pervasive sense of isolation grips the country, a strategically desirable place for Germany and the United States. After Kate's stolid husband, Capt. Miller, resumes his duties in Europe, and then talks her into going behind German lines on a secret mission, she and Ben find themselves in danger. When military authorities tell her the man known as "Killer Miller" was killed, she refuses to believe it and obsessively pursues him across a span of years and across the Atlantic Ocean—still leading Ben around by the heartstrings. Retrospectively told by Ben to his daughters, this book is a teasing epic punctuated by hints of how much worse things are going to get for the heroine. The resolution of Venetia's disappearance feels tossed off, and the novel ends up in John Irving territory with its cute antics involving zoo animals and oddball characters. As a result, it doesn't take flight as much as it should. But with its memorable characters and variety of adventures, Delaney's brand of Irish fabulism is still a delight to read. The novel burnishes this veteran writer's reputation as a consummate storyteller.

"One of the best fictional wartime couples animates veteran Delaney's darkly wistful novel."

Santa Baby

The entry for our Santa Challenge has now closed, and we have a shortlist. This was the largest entry (#FDsanta) of any challenge so far (note: we have dumped the word “Twallenge” – a neologism that many of you disliked). The first line of Santa's autobiography was also the most difficult to judge because of the high standard. And in many ways it proved the most interesting. Literary contests of any kind can give a tiny snapshot of the society whence the entries come – in which case I can deduce that you are a bunch of people concerned with – here we go: obsession, dancing naked, pedophilia, flatulence and stinks, irony, innocence, revolt against parenthood, myth, morbid thoughts, time travel, emotional pain, juvenile crime, wombs and chimneys, sadism, fetishes with vertically challenged people, blood (and lots of it), job satisfaction (or lack thereof), drinking (mostly sherry), eating (mostly mince pies), canonization, hirsuteness (facial, mainly), obesity, imagination, love. In short, you’re my kind of people – it’s my pleasure to know you all. A few entries came from those nearest and dearest to the Santa Challenge, and sadly we had to eliminate these three:

If I am fake, why is my pain so real? – from Leah, on the Challenge team;

They say that if I don't ride the sun will never rise, and they're only half wrong – from Ben, on the Challenge team;

I see you when you're sleeping. I know when you're awake. Let's just take this step by step, shall we? – from Diane, on every team.

With those entries out of contention the field is clear for the rest, so here, in no particular order, comes the Top Ten – now get working on your lobbies by way of voting with comments. And thank you all for a great set of entries. Happy Christmas and New Year!!

I've never thought of myself as a giving person, though I'm told many people see me that way.

Celeste lies in her icy tomb,my child,my pearl. This yearly sleigh ride began for her. If only I still believed it meant something.

The world revolves upon my snowy axis. Greedy fools swallowing up tales of reindeer and elves. If only they knew the real story.

The first toy I carved was kept under a floorboard, hidden from my father - a collier with no patience for the fancies of children.
The first lie your parents ever told you, was probably about me.

My analyst says my chimney fixation is all about regression to the womb. I say it's about the mince pies and sherry. 

I got the idea for Santa when I was three. Our butcher was slaughtering a reindeer. I saw this fat old man, covered in blood...

In the beginning of my life's journey, I found myself in a snowy wood, the sleigh-path lost.

The truth will unnerve you, for I was never the elf-enslaving, sleigh-driving chimney climber the nog & rum soaked masses wanted.

I should probably start with the scandal -get it out of the way quickly- the one time I forgot Christmas.


Dec 15, 2010

Re: Joyce, Episode 27. Who's Serving Whom?

Stephen sees ceremony and symbolism in a shaving bowl.

Dec 09, 2010

Booklist review of The Matchmaker of Kenmare

The Matchmaker of Kenmare.
Delaney, Frank (Author), Feb 2011.

Cover-matchmaker Delaney re-earns his reputation for total reader engagement with his latest deeply thought-out novel, which weaves together various strands of the general theme of searching. In memoir format, narrated by a man in old age, the plot finds its provocative place in the WWII years and the immediate postwar years; in substance, it combines the charm of an Irish yarn with the excitement of a political thriller and the romance of a 1940s war movie. Young Ben McCarthy, fulfilling his job with the Irish Folklore Commission, which means taking story-gathering trips around Ireland, one day meets a young woman, Kate Begley, who makes her living as a matchmaker, connecting local unmarried women and men. The encounter is fateful.

She led me into trouble so deep that my own father wouldn’t have found me,” Ben recalls. Although Ben has, in addition to his professional search project, a personal one—looking for his missing wife—he finds Kate so mesmerizing that he accompanies her on a wild adventure taking them from neutral Ireland into hardly neutral continental Europe, first to retrieve for the U.S. Army a German man who has knowledge the Americans want and then to track down the American officer Kate improbably marries, and with whom she promptly loses touch. As artillery guns fire overhead, hearts ache: a compelling combination.

Dec 08, 2010

Re: Joyce, Episode 26. The Buck is Back

Stephen is called to breakfast by Buck, and hit up for a loan at the same time. All is not forgiven.

Dec 01, 2010

Re: Joyce, Episode 25. Prayers for the Dying

We translate Stephen's prayers for the dying from the Latin, and return immediately to both Homer and Shakespeare.