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Giving Shape to the Moment

The Art of Mary O'Donnell: Poet, Novelist and Short Story Writer

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Edited By Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos

This is the first book to provide a critical assessment of the work of the Irish author Mary O’Donnell. The essays collected here engage with O’Donnell’s writing across multiple genres and explore the themes and preoccupations that have characterized her oeuvre. Alongside her creative work, O’Donnell’s has been a steady and continuing voice for many years within the world of theatre criticism, book reviewing, essay writing, radio broadcasts and cultural commentary.

As a writer, O’Donnell’s principal themes include contemporary Irish society, the position of women in Ireland and the role of the artist. Throughout her career, her approach has been unconventional and her work has sometimes presented a challenge to the status quo. The contributors to this volume illuminate O’Donnell’s role as a humanist writer searching for truth at all costs, through the fictive lives of her often unusual characters, and through the emotional range and depth of her poetry.

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1 Mary O’Donnell and the Voices of Our Time (Mary Pierse)

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MARY PIERSE

1   Mary O’Donnell and the Voices of Our Time

There is a perception that the challenges of the twenty-first century crept up on Irish society unexpectedly and that writers failed to register the changes that were occurring and the dangers they represented. Whether this perception is the result of thorough study or rapid assessment or whether it is nothing more than a panic-stricken denial in the face of rapid economic and social disintegration, the literary record definitely tells another story. In prose and in poetry, Irish writers have artistically documented salient aspects of a changing world, illustrating the trends and the shocks, highlighting success and defeat and often charting a survival route, albeit one that might demand the kind of commitment and honesty that were in decline while acquisition and status-seeking became dominant cultural features. Explicitly and implicitly, both broad and significant attitudinal shifts, together with instances of recurrent private tragedies, are delineated in print. It is remarkable that, amongst the creators of this social record, it is women writers who make up the overwhelming majority; they are the careful chroniclers and discerning analysts of ‘our time’. And yet, only too often, the messages have not been read, the messengers have been ignored and the modality of delivery has not been the subject of critical appreciation. It is a curious situation.

Even a brief review of recent Irish fiction reveals the marked dichotomy between writers when it comes...

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