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Giving Shape to the Moment

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


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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4 ‘The Dark Spaces of Our History’: The Fictions of Mary O’Donnell (Eibhear Walshe)


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4   ‘The Dark Spaces of Our History’: The Fictions of Mary O’Donnell

In this essay, I want to suggest a cultural and a literary context for Mary O’Donnell’s four novels, written between 1992 and 2014, during a period in Ireland when, as Roy Foster suggests, ‘The options of Irishness at the end of the twentieth-century reflect a great dislocation’ (Foster 2007: 181). The last years of the twentieth century saw a remaking of the ways in which Ireland defined itself as an Europeanized liberal society and this remaking or dislocation, depending on how it is viewed, led to new ideas around the scope and the purpose of the novel. As a reflection of profound social change, there was a movement towards unexplored imaginative territories for the Irish writer and I would argue that O’Donnell’s fictive explorations represent a distinctive aesthetic response to this new fin de siècle Ireland. Fintan O’Toole writes that, ‘In the last decade of the century, the Republic embraced another form of globalisation so thoroughly that it came to represent an extreme manifestation of the phenomenon’ (O’Toole 2006: 629). Indeed, his comment is particularly germane in the context of O’Donnell’s 2014 novel Where They Lie, which, in its Dublin-centred passages, shows Ireland in the full flight of extraordinary wealth. I propose reading O’Donnell’s fictions as a reflection of this moment and also as an imaginative remaking of the recent history of Ireland, particularly in the wake...

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