Sunday, November 07, 2021

Reviewing the Reviewers

I get the Irish Times on Saturdays mainly for the book reviews, and to read Keith Duggan in the Sport section. The quality of the book reviewing has waned in recent years – since the demanding and acerbic Eileen Battersby died and John Banville stopped being a regular contributor. The overall impression of its reviews is blandness and a desire not to rock the boat. It needs a Michael Hofmann figure to come in occasionally to slaughter a holy cow. A job he did recently for the TLS in his review of Colm Toibin’s The Magician ( However, there were a number of decent reviews in yesterday’s edition. Desmond Traynor does a sympathetic job on Rob Doyle’s Autobibliography - a book that encourages reading across the centuries, beyond the conventional, and occasionally into the dissolute depths. And Sean Hewitt writes a knowledgeable piece on the peerless Derek Mahon – a poet who should perhaps outrank Seamus Heaney but lacked the latter’s amiability and engagement with his public. Roddy Doyle celebrates The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney (edited by Paul Muldoon) in his own direct and highly-readable voice. Sadly Niamh Donnelly’s review of Brian Cox’s autobiography (Putting the Rabbit in the Hat) lets the side down. It is a rather prissy affair with the likeable and talented Cox being chided for being white, male and for daring to refer to a female actor as an “actress”. Not so much a review as an examination for wokeness that the septuagenarian Cox failed miserably.