It’s almost Spring, 1916, and the aristocratic semi-illiterate Hugh Fitzmaurice risks being sent down from Trinity College, Dublin, for his failure to appreciate that university students are required to study in addition to swanning around the town. The Senior Dean has a proposition that might just save him from joining his compatriots in the trenches: his kinship with the celebrated Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, makes him the ideal leader of a pseudoscientific expedition to the Arctic to bring back the bones of an Irish giant. Not the type to let his lack of seafaring experience stand in the way of an adventure, Fitzmaurice recruits his two friends, and his pet iguana, to join him.
With its sideways look at world events exactly a century ago (particularly in the young people missing the Easter rising, one of the most significant points of recent Irish history), this is an enjoyable light-hearted novel about youthful ambition, although I didn’t find it anywhere near as hilarious as the blurb suggests. The bibliography acknowledges debts to Shackleton and his biographers, as well as Jonathan Swift, CS Lewis and Enid Blyton, but I was most strongly reminded of another Sandstone novel, The Surfacing, another (more serious) account of a foolhardy Arctic expedition.
I’m having a break from those Q&A’s this year, which is why I haven’t managed to interrogate Yusuf Toropov; an American currently living in Ireland, I reviewed his debut Jihadi last week. I’ve also come across some cracking reads from more established Irish writers, from John Boyne’s moving account of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, to Christine Dwyer Hickey’s story of the female casualties of suburbia and, although I wasn’t as enamoured of this one as I’d hoped, Anne Enright’s tale of Irish bonkosity. Also worth a mention are two Irish-born writers whose novels made my fictional therapists series: Kevin Maher for his eve of millennium novel and Ronan Bennett for his mix of passion, politics and psychoanalysis in St Petersburg (set two years prior to The Voyage of the Dolphin, which makes this a good place to end my list).
Finally, let me wish a Happy St Patrick’s Day to three Irish writers and blogging friends: Derbhile Graham, Swiss national Clare O’Dea and United Arab Emirate resident Safia Moore. If you want to avail yourself of more Irish writing, Twitter is doing Reading Ireland month at #begorrathon16.
Do you have a favourite contemporary Irish writer? Let me know in the comments!