James Ryan

Notes

Life
1952- ; brought up in Rathdowney, Co. Laois; ed. TCD; teaches in the School of English and Drama, at UCD; issued Home from England (1995), a first novel, in which an old republican uproots family and central character, his son, to return to Ireland in early 1960s; followed by Dismantling Mr Doyle (1997) and Seeds of Doubt (2001); issued South of the Border [2007]; issued South of the Border (2008), a story of neutrality and attachment during the Emergency; m. and lives in Ranelagh, Dublin, with his wife Caroline Walsh - who is dg. of Mary Lavin and Lit. Ed. of The Irish Times - and their children Matt and Alice.

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Works
Home from England (London, Pheonix House, 1995); Dismantling Mr Doyle (Pheonix House, 1997); Seeds of Doubt (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001); South of the Border (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), 240pp..

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Criticism
Aisling Foster, review of Home from England (1995), in Times Literary Supplement (26 May 1995); see also Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto Press 1997) [on Home from England ], pp.148-50.

See also Lucille Redmond, review of South of the Border, online at Heatseeker Review [infra]

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Commentary
Lucille Redmond, review of South of the Border (1008), in Heatseeker Review (July 2008): ‘Autumn 1942, a young teacher on his first posting in the midlands, and his principal is gobsmacked by his brilliant Irish. / Can you translate a radio programme in Irish, the principal asks the teacher, surprised to find a Dubliner so fluent. I'm not from Dublin, the boy explains, I'm from Balbriggan. / But when he arrives at the house he's directed to, he's sent to a shed with a radio aerial twining through the trees, where a man crouches to hear a broadcast from Germany. In Irish. / He furiously denies stories of a Tan massacre in Balbriggan I'm from there, I'd know and later discovers that this was concealed from him at home, to keep him apolitical. / The teacher is furious at being dragged into politics, but his fury is muted by his passion for a mysterious girl. / Mysterious because she might be Protestant, an important distinction then. / This should be a brilliant novel. The writing is delicate, plain, absolutely beautiful. / But the plot gets lost in winding stories that don't have any real thematic thread to hold them together. / Yet that writing years later, at the funeral of Dixie Coll, the brother of the mystery woman, he sees her again. Beside her are her two aunts, now old women. / One has cropped white hair, but a marquisette hairband, “a tiara of sorts”, and two coats, one bedecked with several heavy costume brooches. / The other “was in full mourning garb, black hat, scarf and coat, all sabotaged by the gold-and-violet sequinned evening bag she was clutching”. / It's moments like this that make you catch your breath. / The central story a Luftwaffe pilot shot down, sheltered, betrayed, dying gets a little lost in the middle of the tentative love story. / A very interesting novel about neutrality and revolution and the mutable nature of politics.’ [online at www.blogger.com; 28.07.08].

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Quotations
Home From England (1995): ‘They were soldiers once. Most of them fought in the First World War and all of them fought in the War of Independence. That is when they became heroes, almost fifty years ago, when they won freedom for Ireland. At the time everyone thought that when one era ends a new one begins. But it didn’t turn out like that. it went on being the end of an era and the men went on being heroes and everybody waited and waited and waiting became an era in itself.’ (p.16; quoted in Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction, London: Pluto Press 1997, p.149.)

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Notes
CUNY IIAS [Institute of Irish-American Studies]: A reading by Irish novelist James Ryan from South of the Border will take place at Baruch College, VC 14-250, Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 2:30-3:45 p.m.

South of the Border (2008): It is autumn 1942, and young Balbriggan teacher Matt Duggan arrives on his first posting to the small town of Rathisland in the Irish midlands, barely alive to the global war raging outside. Lawn tennis alternates with Church and classroom politics, as rehearsals take place for a staging of Hamlet. Beneath the surface are pockets of support for Germany, and plans afoot to link up with the Wehrmacht. Matt has a mesmerising first encounter with nineteen-year-old Madeline Coll and as she edges her way out from the watchful eyes of her aunts she and Matt enter a world they will remember for the rest of their lives. When a Messerschmitt crash-lands in the locality, that world is knocked from its axis. Before long the inherent contradictions of Emergency Ireland boil to the surface, involving Matt and Madeline in a misadventure with deeply tragic consequences. This nuanced coming-of-age story rehearses the inner narrative of neutral Ireland as public perception contends with private experience. Beautifully evoked and implosive, divided personal loyalties mirror the dramas of the wider European stage. (Publicity notice for CUNY-IIAS reading, as above.)

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