Gerard Donovan

CriticismNotes

Life
1959- ; b. Wexford, grew up in Galway; issued Columbus Rides Again (1992) and Kings and Bicycles (1995), poetry; ran the Marathon des Sables in North Africa with two brothers, 1999, and was afterwards the subject of an award-winning documentary; issued Schopenhauer’s Telescope (2003), a postmodernist novel, long listed for the Man Booker Prize and winner of Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, 2004; issued Doctor Salt (2005); a study of pharmaceutical dystopia, in America; has played classical guitar for a living; issued Julius Winsome (2006), ‘a timeless fable of loss, isolation and violence’ (Irish Times); he has taught in New York where he lived in a former railway station cottage; and currently lives in south-west England.

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Works
Poetry, Columbus Rides Again (Galway: Salmon Poetry [1992]), 76pp.; Kings and Bicycles (Galway: Salmon Press 1995), 61pp.; The Lighthouse (Co. Clare: Cliffs of Moher 2000), 89pp.

Novels, Schopenhauer’s Telescope (London: Scribner; NY: New York, Perseus Publ. [Counterpoint] 2003), 306pp.; Doctor Salt (London: Scribner 2005), 263pp.

Short stories, Country of the Grand: A Collection of Stories (London: Faber 2008), xi, 234pp. See also Young Irelanders: Stories (2008) - [cited on Fantastic Fiction website; also Amazon online; 01.05.2011.]

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Criticism
Wikipedia article on Donovan cites him as an English-born writer and references several interviews, viz.,

  • Jane Ciabattari , interview with Donovan, in Critical Mass (7 Aug. 2007) [online].
  • Gerard Donovan: Author Profile, in Fantastic Fiction (2007) [online].
  • Mark Thwaite, interview with Donovan, in The Book Depository (2007) [online].
—accessed 01.05.2011.

Joseph O’Connor: O’Connor has described Country of the Grand (2008) as ‘meltingly beautiful’ and ‘an important and haunting collection’. (See Irish Writers in London Summer School notice, June 2011.)

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Commentary
Derek Hand, ‘Seen through a glass darkly’, review of Schopenhauer’s Telescope, in The Irish Times (24 May 2004), p.12: ‘Schopenhauer’s Telescope opens simply enough, with a man digging a hole and another man standing over him, watching. It is snowing heavily, and the light of the afternoon is failing. The reasons for [this] are not immediately clear. [...] The two men begin to talk. Moments from the past are dwelt upon: moments, that underpin the cruelty and destruction that humans can inflict on one another. They role-play, they mimic, they creatively imagine the past, all in an attempt to come to some understanding about the evil that men do. Thus, the reader is presented with, among other things. a mock-documentary about Genghis Khan and a television news report about the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe. There are, too, digressions into “snow” and “wind”, for instance. There is also one, in the mode of Flann O’Brien’s meditations on molecules, which considers the properties of holes. / Much of this is entertaining, certainly early on. [...] What materialises in this prolonged debate Is opposing conceptions of history. [...] It is at the level of form that reservations can he raised about Schopenhauer’s Telescope. [...] Like a Socratic dialogue, the outcome of the argument, undoubtedly fluid at the beginning, seems predetermined as the novel comes to the close. [However, it is refreshing in a world so full of post-modern ironic indifference that Donovan is prepared to have something to say and not merely content to amuse. [...]’ (See full text, infra.)

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Matthew Kirkpatrick, review of Schopenhauer’s Telescope, on Blookslut [Chicago] ((Oct. 2003): ‘[...] two men on opposite sides of an unnamed civil war stand on a hill in the brutal cold. One man watches over the other as he is ordered to dig a hole. The two know each other and each recounts his story as the day grows longer and colder and the hole deeper. [...] The novel is highly allegoric and not really historical. The details of the war and the country would only serve to steer the reader to a more literal reading of the events and would have placed an even greater burden on Donovan to get the facts straight. That’s not the kind of novel he wanted to write [...] The topics of the book are philosophical and range from the nature of evil to the importance of history. Both men are extremely intelligent, a testament to Donovan’s own intelligence, and I liked learning about them. The stylish writing is appropriately weighted to the topics of the book without being overwrought. [...] Schopenhauer’s Telescope is not perfect, but it’s ambitious and accomplished. Donovan should be proud of the novel and I recommend it despite its few flaws. The story is stimulating and rewarding, and Donovan’s poetic prose is especially enjoyable to read while we stand with the characters in the cold, waiting for the hole to be done.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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John Kenny, ‘The drugs don’t work’, review of Doctor Salt, in The Irish Times (15 Jan. 2005), Weekend, p.10: ‘There were some problems, mainly the occasionally flagging pace, with Donovan’s well-received and Booker long-listed first novel, Schopenhauer’s Telescope (2003), but his talent for a humour too bizarre and philosophically troubled to be simply called tragicomedy was already clear. [...] If Schopenhauer’s Telescope was better received in Europe because it touched on nerves still smarting from ethnic conflict and civil wars, Doctor Salt is distinctly American in its theme and setting. In Salt Lake City, a volatile young man named Sunless has for months been boarding the Pharmalak train to take him to the Pharmalak hospital where television screens simultaneously advertise diagnosis of, and the in-house cures for, the latest mental illnesses (Web-Reflex Disorder; Expanded Depersonalization Syndrome; Chronic Generalised Anxiety Syndrome …).’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Anne Fogarty, ‘Donovan’s spare but poetic style captures the intense anguish of grief and the permutations of loss. At one point Winsome reflects that now he knows what gone really means: “It means no one sees how you live, what you do.” However, the novel complicates this fable of elemental emotion by turning it into a saga of revenge and of spiralling violence. [...] Julius Winsome can be read as an oblique commentary on contemporary American politics and modern society and as an allegory tracing the thin dividing lines between humanity and savagery. The controlled compression of Donovan’s finely etched narrative, however, means that its moral reckonings remain open and ambiguous. This tale of loneliness, pain and terrible retribution set in the remote borderlands of northern Maine insinuates us skilfully into the conflicting emotions of its protagonist. It also transports us to a geographical locale of small towns and snow-laden forests and landscapes that are sharply observed and symbolically potent. Julius Winsome is at once an accomplished and haunting story for our times and a timeless fable of loss, isolation and violence.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Notes
Doctor Salt (2005): Sunless is one of the lucky few. He has problems - don’t we all, these days? - but at least his health insurance will allow him to have them treated. So he boards the PharmaLake train in Salt Lake City, which takes him to his appointments in the PharmaLake hospital, where he’s prescribed PharmaLake pills. In addition, Sunless is careful. He avoids flies, just like he avoids angels. Both species have a tendency to spy on him. But there’s something he keeps meaning to ask his doctor: what have they done with his father? Sunless may be crazy, but so is the system that treats him. And only one of them is interested in a cure. (See notice in COPAC online; accessed 02.05.2011.)

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Country of the Grand (2008): A young man driving across Ireland with his wife asks her how long she would wait before being with another man if he died. A man is trapped, hidden, in a small changing room by the sea on Galway Bay, as he listens to his friends discuss his wife's infidelity. An anguished young boy and his widowed mother struggle to reconstruct their lost father and husband in their own respective ways. The stories in Country of the Grand magnify a New Ireland as it copes with the rewards and pressures of its fresh success: immigration, mid-life crisis, adultery and divorce, a lost sense of place and history, and of course, what to do with all that prosperity. (See notice in COPAC online; accessed 02.05.2011.)

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