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Reading In The Dark

By Seamus Deane
Published by Jonathan Cape

Firstly, an interest must be declared. I am a former student of Seamus Deane’s, from when he was Professor of Modern English and American Literature at University College, Dublin. He has since moved on to the University of Notre Dame. This novel has been in gestation for almost as long as I have been aware of its author, and an extract appeared in Granta magazine as far back as 1986. Literary gossip has it that familial objections to certain skeletons in the cupboard revealed in this highly autobiographical work were responsible for the prolonged delay. So was it worth the wait? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
This is a Bildungsroman, a rites of passage novel which, in common with other recent Irish books in the same genre, Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and Lia Mills’ Another Alice, follows the central character through their formative childhood and adolescent years. But Reading In The Dark goes further, in being the first Irish novel since Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to give us a glimpse into the childhood of a genius.




This is a surprisingly accessible read, considering it comes from someone whose critical work is often very prolix. The sectarian strife of Derry in the ‘40s and ‘50s is depicted well, but there is also a mythic quality present, provided by the nearby Sun-fort of Grianan, home of the warrior Fianna.
If one accepts William James’ distinction between the tough-minded and the tender-minded, Deane is very definitely tough, as is demonstrated by the scene in which the hero confronts his father by uprooting and destroying the roses in the backgarden, which shows his strength of character.
At the heart of the book is the family secret which the son knows, the mother learns, but the father remains ignorant of, and the consequent havoc this reeks in their interpersonal relationships. Deane may be telling stories out of school, but at least he has the necessary ‘ice in the heart’ which Graham Greene said was required by all great writers.

First published in Image













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