Bringing up the bodies

nora b

T’is the season for exhumations. First it was Franco, now it’s Joyce.

Dublin city councillors agreed last week to approach the Government with a view to repatriating the remains of  James Joyce, buried with his wife Nora Barnacle in Fluntern cemetery in Zurich. Labour councillor Dermot Lacey, who proposed the motion, said it would be “honouring someone’s last wishes” – a delightfully vague locution. Does he mean Joyce?  Does he know something we don’t?

However, unwittingly, Cllr Lacey is right.  Seventy years ago, it was Nora Barnacle’s hope that Joyce’s remains be returned to Ireland. It was a matter of honour for her, perhaps tinged by a touch of funeral envy.

In 1948, still living in Zurich because she wanted to be close to her husband’s grave, Nora observed the official pomp and ceremony with which the body of the poet W. B. Yeats was repatriated to Ireland from the south of France where he’d died in 1939. (Yeats had long expressed a wish to be buried in Drumcliff  churchyard in Sligo.)

“The coffin was taken from France to Galway bay by a ship of the Irish navy; there the widow, her children and the poet’s brother were piped aboard.  Then a funeral procession escorted them from Galway to Sligo where Yeats was buried with a military guard of honour and representation from the Irish government,” writes Brenda Maddox in her biography of Nora. “Why not the same for Joyce?”

The answer at the time, of course, was that Yeats was in much higher standing in Ireland than Joyce was; he had served as a Free State senator, a “smiling, public man”, whereas Joyce remained in the Irish imagination of the time as “shocking, blasphemous and arrogant”, as Maddox puts it, whose books if not outrightly banned were seized at the borders.

However, unofficial approaches were made. Joyce’s American patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver asked Count Gerald O’Kelly, a former diplomat and art critic and Georgian afficionado, Constantine Curran, a boyhood friend of Joyce’s, to inquire if the Irish Government or the Royal Irish Academy would consider requesting the return of the body.

Miss Weaver believed that if Joyce’s remains were repatriated, then Nora and Joyce’s son, Giorgio, might consider returning themselves.  (Nora had told American interviewer, Sandy Campbell, that she’d like to have a “cottage in Ireland, but the Irish don’t like Joyce so there you are”.)

Maria Jolas, another lifelong campaigner for the Joyces, added her support saying that Joyce ‘s body should be be brought back because his widow wished it and because he was a towering figure of Irish literature.  With a view to her audience, she also declared that Joyce remained a good Catholic.

But this view was not shared in Dublin.  Count O’Kelly’s back-channel inquiries revealed there was little support for Joyce’s repatriation.  Ireland had apparently not forgiven him for his scandalous work and the plan came to nothing.

Unlike the 1948 campaign, the present move by Dublin city councillers seems motivated more by gain than honour.  The James Joyce “industry” has long been a tourist goldmine for the city.

The Bloomsday celebrations – memorialising June 16, 1904, the day Joyce had his first date with Nora, and the date he chose to set his novel Ulysses on – is a fixture on the tourist calendar, although it started as a spontaneous tribute to the writer by a small group of literati in Dublin.

Comic writer Brian O’Nolan (otherwise known as Flann O’Brien/ Myles na gCopaleen), poet Paddy Kavanagh, writer Anthony Cronin, registrar of Trinity College, A J Leventhal, publican John Ryan and dentist Tom Joyce, a cousin of Joyce’s, made the first Bloomsday pilgrimage on June 16, 1954.

The shambolic expedition, complete with two horse-drawn cabs – echoing the one taken by Bloom and his friends to Paddy Dignam’s funeral in Ulysses – was cut short before all the sites in the novel could be visited, due to the amount of alcohol that was consumed and the fractious mood of the participants. (Fisticuffs threatened between O’Nolan and Kavanagh)

Since then, Bloomsday  – still observed and enjoyed by Joyce’s literary admirers – has been all but hijacked for its tourist potential by the Dublin authorities.  It’s those same authorities who’ve been leading the charge to dig up Joyce from his burial place in Zurich and bring him home.

The Swiss authorities are thinking the same way. Director of the Joyce Foundation in Zurich, Fritz Senn said there would be “resistance” in Switzerland as Joyce’s  grave has become a major tourist attraction there. After all, Senn pointed out, Joyce never accepted Irish citizenship and the Irish Government of the time neglected to send an envoy to his funeral.

The Swiss provided much-needed sanctuary for the Joyces at the the outbreak of World War 2 and Nora continued to live there till her death in 1951.

Both cities clearly have their eye on the next big Joyce anniversary which comes in 2022, marking 100 years since the publication of Ulysses. 

In the meantime, is it a case of bring up your bodies? If so, who’s next – Samuel Beckett?  Look out, Montparnasse!

 

 

The eyes have it

hearn_portrait

Is having bad eyesight a pre-requisite for being a celebrated Irish writer?  Certainly James Joyce had his troubles often having to resort to wearing a patch to spare his eyes.  Throughout his life, he suffered from a catalogue of eye-related conditions –  iritis, conjunctivitis, glaucoma and cataracts. Some suggest his eye troubles were a by-product of syphilis, though this has never been confirmed.

Playwright Sean O’Casey was similarly afflicted, though it’s unlikely he had syphilis.  From the age of five he had continuous crippling bouts of conjunctivitis which in latter years developed into trachoma. In a letter to the American critic Brooks Atkinson in 1964, the year of his death, he wrote heartbreakingly of the plight of a writer going blind:

“I could read an illuminated sign out­doors,” he replied. “But not ordinary newsprint or the letter text in a book. All the hundreds of books around me are dumb. I can write a little, largely by sense of touch. But I cannot read back what I have put down.”

But perhaps the blindest of all was Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850 – 1904) – an Irish writer who is all but forgotten here now but who was a household name in Japan where he wrote a dozen or so books between 1891 and his death in 1904.

I discovered Hearn during an extended stay in Tokyo in 2010 where to be Irish meant you were automatically connected to the fame of Lafcadio Hearn. We visited Matsue, a city in the western Shimani region – a 16-hour journey by train from Tokyo where Hearn is the cornerstone of the city’s cultural tourism, although he only stayed there a little over a year.  There’s a Hearn memorial museum and his home is open to the public.  The city quarter where he lived in Matsue now bears his name and his stylised logo appears on the street lamps in the cobbled streets.  In souvenir shops you can even buy Lafcadio Hearn tea.

Hearn is considered a laureate in Japan, the single greatest foreign interpreter of the country at a time when the old Japanese ways and traditions were being abandoned.

But 20 years before he made his name in Japan, Hearn was a newly arrived emigrant in America, penniless and down on his luck.  From this lowly start he embarked on a career as a pioneering journalist in Cincinnati and New Orleans, specializing in closely observed depictions of the underbelly of society – grotesque murders, hangings, slaughter houses, dissection rooms, city dumps, and the lives lived in the poor black quarters of the city.  This despite the fact that he was blind in one eye, and the sight in the other was severely compromised as a result of an accident during a tug of war competition when he was a schoolboy.

Hearn was born on the Greek island of Lefkas in 1850.  His mother, Rosa Kassimati, was a native of the island; his father, an Irish surgeon stationed on Lefkas with the British Army. They called their first child after the island, hence Hearn’s exotic-sounding second name.  When he was two, his mother, Rosa, brought him to Dublin to live with the extended Hearn family, while his father was posted abroad.  But after a short period, Rosa, homesick and pregnant with a second child, decided to return to Lefkas, leaving Hearn in the care of his great-aunt, Sarah Brenane, in a house in Rathmines. (There is a plaque commemorating his time in this house on Prince Edward Terrace.) The little boy was never to see either parent again – they divorced when he was six.

Hearn’s education at a boarding school in England was brought to an abrupt end when his great-aunt Sarah’s finances crashed and at the age of 16 he had to start making his own way in the world.  It was the beginning of a peripatetic and picaresque existence that took him first to London, then Ohio, where he emerged aged 24 as a crime reporter and scandal chaser on the Cincinnati Enquirer and Commercial.

Hearn was one of the earliest exponents of the New Journalism, that is the original new journalism – the muck-rakers who dominated the American journalism scene in the late 1890s. (The term was resurrected again for the revolutionary immersive journalism of the 1960s).  Like his successors, Hearn used fictional techniques  – dialogue, literary description and placing himself as a character in the story –  that later exemplified the work of Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, and Hunter S Thompson.

‘Gibbetted’, his eyewitness account of the botched hanging of an Irish youth was included in True Crime: An American Anthology (2008), a collection by the Library of America of the best American crime stories of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Hearn’s report contains some eye-watering details (forgive the pun) that must have been more imagined and felt then actually seen given the state of his eyesight. In the New Journalism style Hearn steeps himself in the story. He explores the background of the prisoner, visits the young man before the execution and examines the gallows as they are being constructed. He even gets to feel the pulse of the prisoner when the first hanging fails.

“The poor young criminal had fallen on his back, apparently unconscious with the broken rope around his neck, and the black cap veiling his eyes. The reporter knelt beside him and felt his pulse.  It was beating slowly and regularly.  Probably the miserable boy thought then, if he could think at all, that he was really dead – dead in darkness, for his eyes were veiled – dead and blind to this world but about to open his eyes upon another.  The awful hush immediately following his fall might have strengthened this dim idea.  But then came the gasps, and choked sobs from the spectators; the hurrying of feet, and the horrified voice of the Deputy Freeman calling ‘For God’s sake, get me that other rope, quick!!’  Then a pitiful groan came from beneath the black cap.

‘My god.  Oh my god!’

‘I ain’t dead – I ain’t dead!’

The insistent use of other senses in the piece – hearing and touch – speak of a man determined to compensate for his deficient eyesight. And his feel for atmosphere and his human empathy – essential for any journalist writing colour – is unquestionable.  His appetite for colour writing may have sprung from his personal life which was also extremely bohemian, to say the least, but that’s a story for another day.

Lafcadio Hearn was born on this day, June 27, 167 years ago.

 

Publication squared

wall inviteprosperity cover

Saturday, April 23, sees the Cork launch of Prosperity Drive along with William Wall’s new short story collection, Hearing Voices, Seeing Things. The publication celebration – as it is billed – will round off a week of international book events in Cork’s World Book Fest and will be introduced by UCC’s Frank O’Connor scholar, Dr Hilary Lennon. William and I will be reading and may be asked a few questions. Wine will be free but books will be sold for ready cash. The event is on at 8pm in Triskel Christchurch, Cork.  All welcome!

Meanwhile, Prosperity Drive has been getting some great reviews.  Clare Kilroy in The Guardian (April 9) compares the collection to Joyce’s Dubliners – I’ll take that!

“Much of the considerable power of Morrissy’s prose lies in her technique of dipping seamlessly in and out of temps perdu,” Kilroy writes. “The compassion, immediacy, humour and delicacy with which Morrissy depicts their [the characters’] predicaments result in moments of profundity.”

Anne Cunningham in the Irish Independent (April 4) describes Prosperity Drive as close to both John Banville and Alice Munro: “Her style, her intense moments of close clinical dissection reminds me a little of John Banville. But she shows more compassion for her cast of characters, perhaps not unlike Alice Munro.  All human life is there on Prosperity Drive. . .It’s not a pretty picture.  But it’s a magnificent read.”

Joyce’s Other City

joyce's cafe

I’m just back from the Trieste Joyce School (June 30 – July 4) where I had the thrill of reading in the beautiful Art Deco Caffe San Marco, above, one of James Joyce’s many hang-outs in the city. Founded in 1914, when Trieste was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the café was a meeting place for the city’s writers, radicals, and intellectuals. During Joyce’s ten years in the city beginning in 1904, he was a regular at the San Marco along with Triestine poet Umberto Saba and novelist Italo Svevo (often thought to be the model for Leopold Bloom in Ulysses).

It still attracts a literary crowd; in 2013 when the cafe was under threat of closure, writer and academic Claudio Magris, who regularly writes at a table there, made an impassioned plea to save the San Marco, describing it as “a place where you’re at peace, you read, you write, you chat. . . a heart of the city; a strong heart that beats calmly”.

The café has survived and hosted several events at the Trieste Joyce School. Now in its 19th year, the school is led by the calm and genial Irish scholar John McCourt, author of The Years of Bloom, about Joyce’s years in Trieste. He could be said to be following in Joyce’s footsteps as he has lived in Trieste since 1990. His local knowledge came to the fore during his immensely informative – and entertaining – walking tour where he brought to vivid life Joyce’s Triestine years.

During his research, McCourt recalled tracking down one of Joyce’s English language students in Trieste (Joyce worked for the Berlitz School), who was then aged 99. She remembered Joyce’s instruction – he apparently stuck to the manual – and wondered whatever became of Signore Joyce. (She hadn’t kept track of her erstwhile tutor.)

It seemed a little bit like coals to Newcastle reading from Dubliners 100 – Tramp Press’s centenary publication of new versions of Joyce’s stories ─ to Joycean scholars in a regular haunt in Joyce’s adopted city. (I rewrote An Encounter – see elsewhere on this blog.) But they were a great audience – despite the fact that it was a very hot night.

I also read from The Rising of Bella Casey, my novel about the sister of Sean O’Casey. Although O’Casey and Joyce were contemporaries, they never met – by the time O’Casey became prominent in Dublin, Joyce had already left, and even if he hadn’t, class and religion might have kept them apart. (Joyce was from a middle-class Catholic background; O’Casey working-class Protestant, though both shucked off their religion at an early age.)

But there were other echoes in the Joyce story that chimed with the experience of Bella Casey. When John McCourt talked about the relationship between James and his brother, Stanislaus, who came to Trieste on James’s urgings, the tensions he described seemed very familiar.

Stannie was a steady provider and a loyal – and very practical ─ supporter of his brother’s genius. He regularly saved Joyce and his family from penury, found them accommodation or shared his own with them. He was a fixer, debt-payer and first reader for his brother, but his was often a thankless role. After they became estranged – Stannie was less than enthusiastic about Ulysses and dismissed Finnegan’s Wake entirely – Joyce is said to have dismissed the loss of a brother as no more serious than mislaying a pair of gloves.

In the Casey family, Bella was often the one with her hand out. After her husband died, she was destitute, left with five children to raise alone, and she was forced to return to the family home, where O’Casey still lived. It was a situation that O’Casey deeply resented.

In his autobiographies (in which he referred to himself in the third person) he wrote: “So they struggled on, his mother always aiming at sparing as much as she could from her own dish as she dared, and paring a little from her own share of bread to faintly feed Ella (Bella) and her kids; and she went on darning night and day to prevent their rags from floating off their backs. It wasn’t a pleasant job for him (Sean) to be eating a dinner with a little army of hungry eyes watching him. . . At times, a surge of hatred swept through him against those scarecrow figures asleep at his feet for they were in his way, and hampered all he strove to do, and a venomous dislike of Ella charged his heart.”

Perhaps all this proves is that both Joyce and O’Casey were utterly single-minded in the pursuit of their art and that nothing – least of all the circumstances or the finer feelings of their siblings – was allowed to interfere with the work in progress.

True to the spirit of Joyce

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I’m really thrilled with this review by John Boland  in the Irish Independent of Dubliners 100, which gives special mention to  An Encounter, my take on Joyce’s story of the same name. The book, from newcomers Tramp Press – run by the indefatigable Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff –  showcases the work of 15 contemporary Irish writers who recast Joyce’s stories a hundred years after they first appeared in 1914.

‘It is not my fault,” James Joyce told his London publisher, Grant Richards, “that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass.”

Less vehemently, he also told Richards that his intention was “to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life”.

He wrote those words more than a 100 years ago and now, on the centenary of the first publication of Dubliners, we are offered 15 new stories bearing the same titles that Joyce used, each of them written by a contemporary irish author, and each of them purporting to offer modern ‘cover versions’ of the original.

That, at any rate, is the phrase used by Thomas Morris, who has edited the book for Tramp Press, which was founded in the past year by Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen, both of whom met when when they worked at Antony Farrell’s Lilliput Press – where the former discovered Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, which was previously rejected by more than 40 publishers.

It’s unclear, though, what Morris (who recently took up editorship of The Stinging Fly magazine) means by “cover versions” – indeed, his blithely offhand introduction, which is more about himself than the project in hand, suggests not only that he’s unsure himself, but also that he’s not really too bothered about it anyway.

This may explain why he includes a story by Paul Murray that was originally published in 2011 under the name Saint Silence and that’s here been retitled A Painful Case, even though its account of the strange relationship that evolves between a contemptuous (and implausible) restaurant critic and a contemplative monk bears only the most tenuous connection, whether in scenario or tone, to Joyce’s tale about Mr James Duffy.

Nor can it easily be discerned how Patrick McCabe’s raucously fanciful The Sisters bears any relation to Joyce’s opening story, or Peter Murphy’s laboriously contrived The Dead to its majestic antecedent.

And a few other stories are simply too poorly conceived and executed to have merited inclusion in any serious collection. But there are some intriguing – and, indeed, a few outstanding – stories here by writers who have sought to imagine current correspondences to their assigned originals – even if very obliquely in the case of Donal Ryan’s take on Eveline and Eimear McBride’s on Ivy Day in the Committee Room.

Yet while Ryan and McBride have been the two greatest recent discoveries in Irish fiction, the finest stories here – and also the truest to the spirit of the enterprise – are by less acclaimed writers, though mention should also be made of John Boyne’s Araby, in which a boy’s crush on a rugby-playing older boy evokes some of the desolation to be found in Joyce’s original beautiful story. John Kelly’s A Little Cloud, which recasts the condescending Ignatius Gallaher as a New York-based novelist and has him meeting the hapless Little Chandler (here Inky Chandler) in the Merrion Hotel, is also persuasive, as is Andrew Fox’s After the Race, set in Manhattan and involving boasting businessmen as the embodiments of paralytic malaise. Joyce would have known them for what they are.

And he would have appreciated Michelle Forbes’s affecting version of Clay, in which Maria has become the overweight and innocent Conor making his way home to the bleak domestic outpost of Cherrywood, where he’s mocked by a group of trick-or-treating teenage girls.

He would have recognised, too, the hollowness of housewife Kathleen’s existence in Elske Rahill’s A Mother. The story falters towards the end, but the desperation of the loveless Kathleen as she contrives a ghastly social evening is poignantly captured.

Finest of all, though, is Mary Morrissy’s reimagining of that great story, An Encounter, with mitching schoolboy Joe Dillon now becoming schoolgirl Jo Dillon as she and the narrator embark on a mundane though ultimately life-changing jaunt through the middle-class peacefulness of Churchtown and Dartry. The story stands on its own but it’s also true to the spirit of Joyce, who would have applauded its lovingly detailed evocation of place.

Dubliners, a hundred years on

Dubliners 100

I’ve just got a sneak preview of  the cover of Dubliners 100, the book of short stories Tramp Press is bringing out in June to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Joyce’s Dubliners.

Fifteen writers were asked to do “cover versions” of the stories in Dubliners – the brief was fairly open and the recasting of the stories was left entirely to us. Luckily, I was one of the writers asked. The story I got to rework was An Encounter which is not one of the stories that immediately appealed when I first read Dubliners 35 years ago. (My favourite then was Araby, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog).

But as a result of this commission from Tramp Press, I have read An Encounter very closely over the past few months. It’s one of those stories that offers up its mysteries slowly – a true sign of art – and it has displaced Araby, of my youthful affections, as my mature favourite of Joyce’s stories.

Not much seems to happen in An Encounter.  Two boys, keen for adventure, go on the mitch from school and meet an old man, who may or may not be an exhibitionist. The man speaks to them in a strange fashion; the narrator is oddly entranced by this man but his friend, being more pragmatic, runs away. The result of the encounter is inconclusive but the relationship between the boys – the bookish narrator and his more phlegmatic friend – is changed subtly as a result of it.

The challenge in recasting Joyce is to try to recreate the spirit of the story without resorting to pastiche (and even pastiching Joyce is fairly difficult).  He spoke, famously, about the “scrupulous meanness” of the language in Dubliners which accounts for the intensity of emotional effect in the stories. When recasting An Encounter, I went for  the intensity of emotion – but the stinginess of language I found harder to achieve.

The rewriting of Joyce’s story has been a journey of rediscovery – looking at an overlooked story (overlooked by me, that is ) and finding a slow-release masterpiece. Now I can’t wait to see how my fellow writers – John Kelly, John Boyne, Donal Ryan, Peter Murphy, Elske Rahill, Oona Frawley, Eimear McBride, Pat McCabe and Sam Coll among others – have channelled Joyce.

Dubliners 100, edited by Tom Morris,  is published by Tramp Press on June 5th.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

Siblings are often in danger of being traduced in print when there’s a writer in the family. Sometimes they bite back, biographically or fictionally. Others, like Bella Casey, the heroine of The Rising of Bella Casey (Brandon Press, 2013), my novel about the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey and his sister, don’t get the chance of a right to reply.  One of the triggers for writing Bella’s story was O’Casey’s decision to kill her off  ten years before her time in his autobiography.

Perhaps the best known set of literary siblings were the Brontës, but they happily shared a literary territory, particularly as teenagers. Later, the sisters’ fictional depiction of one another seems to have been heavily disguised – and, more importantly, was not contested. In the course of my research, I did some trawling through works where literary siblinghood was either hotly debated on the page, or – as in the case of Bella Casey –  a sister or brother was airbrushed out of the family album.

Stannie 1904

1. Stephen Hero: by James Joyce

This early work featured many episodes drawn from Joyce’s family life and, in particular, Stephen’s close relationship with his brother, Maurice (read Joyce’s real-life brother, Stanislaus, pictured above) Joyce subsequently rewrote it as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but he excised much of the material relating to Stanislaus. In later years, Stanislaus wrote a psychologically riveting memoir of Joyce’s early life, My Brother’s Keeper. “It is terrible,” he observed “to have a cleverer older brother. . .I perceive that he regards me as quite commonplace and uninteresting – he makes no attempt at disguise – and though I follow him fully in this opinion I cannot be expected to like it.”

2.Monkeys: by Susan Minot

Susan Minot’s “semi-autobiographical” debut novel caused a family storm when it was published in 1986. It follows the lives of the seven Vincent children, their Catholic mother and alcoholic father in an atmosphere of New England privilege. The novel inspired a veritable symphony of competing sibling creativity. Sister Eliza Minot published The Tiny One in 1999, covering the same events, brother George penned a murder mystery, The Blue Bowl,  about a large family in which one of the sons is accused of killing his father. Sam Minot, who claimed the father-killer character in George’s novel was based on him, replied with a self-published memoir entitled The Strange Poverty of the Rich. There are three other Minot siblings who have yet to contribute to the debate.

A S Byatt

3. The Game : A.S Byatt

A Brontean tale of two sisters who as children share an imagined alternate universe based on the Arthurean tales, but who are divided by the same creativity as adults. When Cassandra, a single Oxford don, sees one of her childhood fantasies portrayed in her sister Julia’s novel, the stage is set for a showdown. Byatt’s sister, Margaret Drabble, described the novel as “a mean-spirited book about sibling rivalry and she sent it to me with a note signed ‘With love,’ saying ‘I think I owe you an apology’.”

4. The Peppered Moth: Margaret Drabble

Drabble’s first novel, The Summer Bird-Cage was also about a pair of rivalrous sisters, one single and the other who opts for a wealthy marriage. But it was not until Drabble’s 2011 novel, The Peppered Moth was published, that Antonia Byatt railed publicly against her sister’s fiction. Byatt was exercised by the character of Bessie Bawtry in the novel which is based on the Drabbles’ mother, Kathleen. She is quoted as saying that she “would rather people didn’t read someone else’s version of my mother”.

5. Little Women: Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott did not have the same problems when she mined sibling territory for her series of novels about the March sisters – maybe because the proceeds were going towards supporting them. Troubled by her family’s genteel poverty, she vowed at age 15 that she would be rich. Little Women was a commissioned work; her publisher wanted “a book for girls”. The novel, based on Louisa and her sisters coming of age in the American Civil War, was published September 30, 1868 and was an instant success.

steve jobs

6. A Regular Guy: Mona Simpson

Tom Owens drops out of college and becomes a Silicon Valley biotech millionaire. He’s a barefoot in the boardroom kind of entrepreneur who eventually gets pushed out of the company he helped create. Sound familiar? Simpson’s brother was Apple founder, Steve Jobs, above, who was adopted days after birth. Simpson’s novel is written from the point of view of Owens’ estranged daughter, Jane. Jobs’ response to the novel is not recorded but Lisa Brennan-Jobs, his daughter by a first marriage, was furious. “In the first few pages, I was confronted with my family, my anecdotes, my things, my thoughts, myself in the character Jane. And sandwiched between the truths was invention—lies to me, made more evident because of their dangerous proximity to the truth.”

7. Hideous Kinky: Esther Freud

Hippie mother Julia leaves the predictability of Tunbridge Wells with her two daughters, aged 4 and 7, for Morocco where they live a low-rent life in Marrakech. The elder girl, Bea, based on Freud’s sister, Bella, insists on a conventional life in the midst of the chaos, going to school etc while the younger sister and child narrator of the novel watches uncomprehendingly as her rackety mother hitches herself up to various men and explores Sufism while the family slides further into impoverishment. When asked what her sister thought of the autobiographical novel, Esther Freud said Bella’s memories of the sojourn in Morocco were not compatible with hers. But she added that her sister had relished the novel.

frank mccourt

8. Angela’s Ashes: Frank McCourt:

Frank McCourt ‘s fictionalised memoir was a fore-runner of the misery lit genre back in 1996. Its depiction of a miserable Irish childhood with a brood of brothers enraged the residents of Limerick where the McCourts grew up. McCourt’s brothers, Malachy and Alphie each subsequently produced memoirs of their own – A Monk Swimming and A Long Stone’s Throw respectively. They didn’t argue with their brother’s account; they merely added their own voices to the family narrative with further adventures, mostly in the US.

9. Big Brother: Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver’s latest novel is inspired by her dangerously overweight brother Greg, who was contemplating gastric surgery when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2009. Shriver has turned the story into a novel in which the brother – now called Edison – takes charge of his obesity with a rigorous diet imposed by his sister, Pandora, with weight issues of her own. Shriver was determined to fictionalise her brother’s story. “It was the inspiration,” she said of his death. But she added that her real brother was very complicated. “I don’t think he would’ve fit in a book.”  And if he were still alive, the novel might never have been written.

dorothy wordsworth

10. Daffodils: William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud, Wordsworth wrote, but by right he probably should have used the first person plural. He was with his devoted sister Dorothy (in the portrait above) when they saw the long belt of daffodils as she notes in her diary. “. . . they grew among the mossy stones and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind. . . ” Dorothy’s journals were full of observations of nature and the siblings’ life together, some of which found their way into Wordsworth’s verse. Indeed, he consulted her journal when he came to write Daffodils and that, it seems, is how she intended it. It was for William that Dorothy kept the journal.