COLUM McCANN, in dialogue with Charles Foran, Sunday (October 22), 4 pm, Lakeside Terrace; and reading with John Arden, Margaretta D'Arcy and Peter Davison, Sunday (October 22), 8 pm, Brigantine Room. Everything In This Country Must, by Colum McCann (Phoenix House), 143 pages, $32.50 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Irish insight Rating: NNNN
Just because Roddy Doyle, Mary Morrissy and Eoin McNammee are currently flavour of the month doesn't make contemporary Irish writing a trend. Ask Colum McCann, the 35-year-old and, yes, Dublin-born author of Everything In This Country Must, what he thinks about this so-called movement and you won't get the answer you expect.
"I don't think it's very healthy for any culture to suddenly believe they've become hip or sexy," McCann explains on the phone from Dublin. "To be hip is to be terminal. All fashion eventually fades. It's gotten so ridiculous that in Ireland today there are writers on television selling cars!"
Although it could just as easily be set in the Middle East or the Balkans, Everything In This Country Must consists of a novella and two bracketing short stories that detail the grim resignation that generations of religious and political conflict have wrought, especially on the country's children. McCann's skill is demonstrated not only by what he tells the reader but also by what he leaves unsaid.
Currently working on the screen adaptation of his previous novel, This Side Of Brightness, as well as a manuscript about a "crazy" globe-trotting Russian dancer, McCann discounts Truman Capote's theory that a writer starts at the ending and works backward."I generally know the first sentence and the last sentence, but I've absolutely no fucking idea what's in between," McCann says. "Writing a book is often an exercise in coming to terms with failure.
"My conception is always grander and more beautiful than what actually turns out. I get this idea and think that if only I could write it properly, I'd have a great novel. And then, in the process of writing it, I realize that it's not quite what I meant. But that's part of the joy, the failing. If it's going to be easy and I'm not going to learn anything, why do it?
"Anyone who says they've written a great book is finished."