Ronan Bennett


Life
1956- ; b. Belfast of Derry parents; sentenced by Diplock Court and imprisoned in Long Kesh and Brixton Prison for republican activities in the 1970s, successfully defended himself in three-month trial at Old Bailey; completed B.A. in history, and PhD in legal history, London University; involved in campaign to free Guilford Four; with Paul Hill, The Stolen Years: Before and After Guildford (1990); The Second Prison: A Novel (1991), follows an IRA member, Augustine Kane as he learns the truth behind the events which led to him serving an eleven year sentence for the murder of his best friend;
 
issued Overthrown by Strangers (1992), a second novel; wrote script for Love Lies Bleeding (NI BBC 1993), a successful TV drama; a third novel, The Catastrophist (1998), dealing with African decolonisation and neo-colonial cynicism with tacit reference to the politics of the Belfast Agreement; shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize; other TV dramas for tv and radio incl. A Further Gesture (1996); Face (1997); Lucky Break (2001); and The Hamburg Cell (2004); issued novel, Havoc, in Its Third Year (2004), set in 17th c. North of England and dealing with intolerance and persecution, short-listed for Booker; lives in London;
 
his Zugzwang, a historical tale set in St Petersburg during the 1914 chess championship explores the conflict between political radicalism and state control; wrote the screen-play of Public Enemies, dir. Michael Mann with Johnnie Depp as John Dillinger.

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Works
Fiction
  • The Second Prison: A Novel (London: Hamish Hamilton [1991];
  • Overthrown by Strangers (London: Hamish Hamilton 1992);
  • The Catastrophist (Headline Review 1998), 313pp.;
  • Havoc in Its Third Year (London, 2004).
TV dramas (scripted by Bennett)
  • Love Lies Bleeding (1993), [TV drama; ,dir. Michael Winterbottom; with Brendan Gleeson,  Mark Rylance,  Elizabeth Bourgine,  Tony Doyle,  John Kavanagh and George Shane];
  • A Further Gesture(Channel 4 1997) [dir. Robert Dornhelm, with Stephen Rea, Alfred Molina, Rosana Pastor, Brendan Gleeson, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Maria Doyle Kennedy];
  • Rebel Heart, 4 pts. (Irish Screen 2000), dir. Robert Strickland, with James D’Arcy,  Frank Laverty,  Vincent Regan,  Paloma Baeza,  Dawn Bradfield,  Lorcan Cranitch].
Miscellaneous
  • Ronan Bennett with Paul Hill, Stolen Years: Before and After Guildford (London: Doubleday 1990), 287pp.;
  • ‘The Politics in Another Country’, in The Guardian (20 June 1992), p.29 [extract].
See also Ronan Bennett & Daniel King on Chess: Healy-Lee, Hammersmith Open 1974, in The Guardian (10 July 2009) [a revisit to that game with an account of John Healy, author of Grass Arena (1988) - online, or go to Guardian - direct];

TV dramas (directed by Bennett), ‘Do Armed Back Robbers Have Love Affairs?’ (BBC NI 1999; produced by Pearse Moore; scripted with Seamus Keenan].

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Criticism
Michael Quinn, ‘Ex-Pat Paddies’, Fortnight (July/Aug. 1995), pp. 27ff. [extract]; Michael Kerrigan, ‘African Abstracts’, review of The Catastrophist (1998), in Times Literary Supplement (10 July 1998), p.21 [extract]; Patricia Coughlan, ‘“Does a Man Die at Your Feet ...”: Gender, History, Representation in The Catastrophist’, in Irish University Review (Autumn/Winter 2003), pp.371-91.

World News/WN.com - has links to reviews, interviews and film clips at wn.com/Ronan_Bennett [29.07.2011].

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Commentary
Michael Quinn, ‘Ex-Pat Paddies’, Fortnight (July/Aug. 1995), pp. 27ff.: ‘In his notoriously narrow analysis of the ‘prevailing image of Northern Ireland culture’ published in the Guardian a year ago, the novelist and journalist Ronan Bennett took a swinging side-swipe at the state of the north’s arts - for which, largely, read theatre and literary fiction. Writing in a venomous vein ... quack doctor run out of town pontificate ... insularity of permanent London base ... risible banalities of Bennett’s Love Lies Bleeding ... [&c] (p.27).

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Michael Kerrigan, rev. of The Catatrophist (1998), in Times Literary Supplement (10 July 1998) [q.p.]: story of Belfast born Catholic James [né Seamus] Gillespie; set in Ireland and the Congo in 1959; James’s lover is the firebrand Ines; documents the unravelling of Belgian rule; dizzying pace, violence and horror; incls. phantom forms of Frantz Fanon and Germaine Greer; reviewer quotes, “the ultimately banality of this country and the low comedy of its calamities” and remarks that Ireland and the Congo resemble each other in banality; considers the work significantly flawed as a novel.

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Edna Longley, ‘Ulster Protestants and the Question of “Culture”’, in Last Before America - Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001): ‘Ronan Bennett exemplifies the interface between culture war and literary criticism. [Quotes: ‘The Protestant North has produced art, but rarely is it art that celebrates the world that spawned it (... &c.; as infra.)] Bennett’s language is tinged by race, and he adds art-as-culture and culture-as-art to the unitary nationalist identification of culture with politics. Thus he assumes that non-celebratory art produced by Protestants has both rejected “its” culture and accurately described “its” totality. Bennett contradicts himself I when he condemns as “propaganda” the fiction of Robert McLiam Wilson which does not particularly celebrate the Catholic “world that spawned it”. He also assumes that dissent and critique are not primary literary causes. Patrick Grant, whose book compares texts by writers from different backgrounds – a surprisingly rare procedure given all the “negotiations” – contrastingly proposes that “literature and its assessment are part of an educative process by which an unravelling and deconstruction of traditional binary opposites might patiently be effected”. But because writers in Northern Ireland “are not exempt from the conditions of their own upbringing ... [a comparative] arrangement ... can help to show how persistent are the mythologies of ethnic identity, as well as the complexity and variety of ways in which people “go between” the binary opposites.’ (p.116.)

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Dermot Mac Cormack [review of Havoc], in Irish Edition (July 2005),notes that Bennett was sent to prison in Long Kesh [the Maze] by a Diplock Court for a crime he did not commit and afterwards arrested by the Special Branch on arrival in Britain; charges dropped after period of imprisonment; subsequently charged with conspiracy but acquitted by jury in the infamous Persons Unknown case. ( p.21.)

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Quotations
The Politics in Another Country’: ‘In other countries which have experienced similar social and political fragmentation, violence and death - and, the other side of the coin, heroism, idealism and sacrifice - novelists would find it inconceivable not to portray the strife raging around them.’ (In The Guardian, 20 June 1992, p.29, cited in Robert Goldsmith, M.A. Dipl., UUC, 1996).

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An Irish Answer’, in The Guardian (16 July 1994) [Weekend], pp.6-8: ‘Theirs is the culture of aloofness, of being “above it all”, of distance from two sets of proletarian tribes fighting out their bloody atavistic war ... Writers, by and large, do not get involved ... the [373] Troubles are thus presented as an appalling human tragedy, devoid of political content [...]’ (Quoted in Patricia Coughlan, ‘“Does a Man Die at Your Feet ...”: Gender, History, Representation in The Catastrophist’, in Irish University Review, Autumn/Winter 2003, pp.371-91.

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Don’t Mention the War: Culture in Northern Ireland’ (in Rethinking Northern Ireland: Culture, Ideology and Colonialism, ed. David Miller, Harrow: Addison Wesley Longman 1998): ‘The Protestant North has produced art, but rarely is it art that celebrates the world that spawned it. More often it is an angry reaction to the prevalence of bigotry, claustrophobia and paranoia ... Unsurprisingly, most artists and writers who have emerged from Ulster Protestantism have tended to move away - physically and mentally - from the world that bred them.’ (p.209; quoted in Edna Longley, ‘Ulster Protestants and the Question of “Culture”’, in Last Before America - Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001, p.116 [see her remarks under Commentary, supra.)

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Notes
Love Lies Bleeding (1993): A Republican prisoner in the Maze prison (nr. Hillsborough, Co. Down) is released for 24 hours to help track the killers of his former girlfriend.

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Havoc in Its Third Year (2004): set in 17th c. England; anonymous town run by Puritans; central character John Brigge, a town coroner, is loosely based on organiser of inquisitions in West Riding of Yorkshire; a steadfast character with failings and humility; sent to investigate Katherine Shay, an Irishwoman accused of infanticide; unvocers discrimination, xenophobia, and abuse of power; Brigge torn between demand for summary execution and the defense of his own family. (See Dermot Mac Cormack [review], in Irish Edition, July 2005, p.21.)

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Zugzwang, cited by Anne Fogarty in “Who Read What?” (Irish Times, 2 Dec. 2006), is also the title of works by Brigitte Struzyk ([ ...] Gedichte und Prosa, c.2001) and Claus Nowak (novel, 1979).

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