When a country’s entire economy is threatened, it’s common to fret about what will become of that country’s best-known export. These are easy little stereotype games journalists play—“What?! Greece in financial turmoil?! What will happen to the olive industry?!” The stories write themselves.
Especially, it seems, when an endangered land’s most identifiable internationally consumed product is its literature.
Ireland had to beg the European Union for a bail-out this week. I’ve already run across several references as to how this could impact Ireland’s celebrated novelists. On BBC Radio 4’s Nov. 26 Front Row show, Kirsty Lang raised the issue while discussing a new anthology of Irish short stories with writer Anne Enright.
The hope appears to be that this fresh appearance on the world stage will cause bolts of inspiration to smack every blocked writer in Dublin and Limerick and foment untold reams of Nobel-quality prose… about what it’s like to be poor and downtrodden in Ireland.
Seriously. Do we not already have enough Irish novels about abject poverty? What challenge, other than the option of writing in the present or future tense for a change, are these authors likely to rise to?
While flipping through the Irish Times on my Kindle—gaining gossipy snippets of info like how that poor government minister who’d been instructed to emphatically and completely deny all the EU bailout rumors, hours before they were revealed as true, has been behaving since that professional embarrassment—I came across another absorbing Irish lit-life overlap:
Man kills his drunken father (who’s been terrorizing the family for years) with a shovel. Horrific, I know, but impossible to read about without thinking of one of the most important Irish fictions of all time, J.M. Synge’s comedy script The Playboy of the Western World. Journalists must be biting their lips, restraining themselves from making the obvious references lest they be accused of bad taste.
No such problem for the “Irish Biker’s Discussion Forum,” where nggnorm (IDed as a “MotoGP Legend” who rides a Suzuki RF600R”) starts a comment thread with this title: “Playboy of the Western World all over again.” Well, I’m glad somebody’s emboldened to say it.
This piece of classic literature, humorously inclined though it is, can handle the attention. Synge’s play premiered to riots and years of controversy because it dared suggest that patricide could be justifiable—socially acceptable, even. Now it’s a front page reality story, causing the same debates that have been held among theater audiences for a century now.