Since reading this Guardian article from earlier this month featuring Julian Gough’s criticism of fellow Irish novelists, I’ve been feeling torn. On the one hand, I do get his point that contemporary Irish novelists tend to be backward-looking, that “reading award-winning Irish literary fiction, you wouldn’t know television had been invented.” Yet, as a book lover with a Masters in Irish Studies and an on-the-record Colum McCann fanatic, I want to have a strong argument against Gough’s claim. While I don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of Irish lit by any means, I have studied it and have even worked in an Irish bookstore, where Irish content is generally separate from similar sections, so that Irish fiction gets a separate set of bookcases from fiction, and so on. I feel I should be able to call to mind some great literature that feels present rather than past. Gough doesn’t necessarily assert that they aren’t writing good novels, merely that they aren’t reflecting contemporary culture. Now, no doubt novels set in the past still often reflect the ethos of the time in which they’re written, but it does seem unusual for a culture not to directly document the contemporary world in novel form.
So help me out, folks! I’d love to be able to leap to the defense of the subjects of my academic study, even if only in my own head where Gough’s objections are lingering.