Liam Ó Muirthile

An colm bán

Úrscéal ciorclach, timpeallach atá sa saothar seo, é lonnaithe i bPáras; dhá thréimhse ama – tús an 20ú hAois, agus tús an 21ú hAois – agus dhá scéal á bhfí ina chéile. ‘A novel of the highest order’ – The Irish Times.

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Product ID: 5000 ISBN: 978-1-907494-33–8 Categories: , , , ,

This literary novel set in Paris explores in circular, cyclical fashion two periods in time – the beginning of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st – and two stories interwoven.

‘A novel of the highest order’ – The Irish Times.

Weight405 g
Published
Pages
Cover

hard, soft

Micheál Ó hAodha, The Irish Times 11 April 2014.

'Situated in Paris and straddling two historical periods, the early-1900s and the early 21st century, Ó Muirthile has gone in search of a real and engaging narrative about a woman (Nóra Buckley) who loves to dance... Ó Muirthile has walked the tightrope between the known and the unknown that fashions great fiction. In doing so, he has achieved what many people had deemed impossible; he has re-located the Irish language and its people back in the cultural fulcrum of the European imaginary once more... a novel of the highest order.'

The review may be read in full by clicking here


 Caitríona MacKernan in Books Ireland, September/October, 2014

Feathers fly in a tale of love and fame.

White doves/coilm bhána flit in and out of An Colm Ban, some in unlikely feathers. Nora Buckley, alias Ellen Daunt, alias la blanche colombe (the white dove) of Les Folies Bergères, danced in mind, body and wing, as would a dove. Also, as in the French folksong Auprès de ma blonde , she was ‘la blanche colombe qui chante jour et nui … pour le filles qui n’ont pas de mari’ (who sang day and night for girls who don’t have husbands).

Forward 80 years and a dove is in the toe of a shoe in the window of an exclusive shoe shop in Galerie Royale, Paris. In Les Jardins de Luxembourg an eccentric lady tenderly cares for doves, the health of one of which worries her. Back to 1918: in celebration of the Treaty of Versailles, flocks of white doves are released. Forward to today: an artist, the protagonist’s co-tenant in scruffy, inhospitable lodgings in the rue Ste-Jacques, secretly paints his own self-portrait as St. Francis with the white dove.

The contemporary protagonist, a writer, rambles through Paris et ses quartiers , celebrates its oddballs and is obsessed by Nora Buckley, whose fame he heard of from an old lady, once her co-dancer in Les Folies Bergéres. In their Folies days, tout Pari s, euphoric that World War I was over, welcomed jazz clubs and Afro-American soldiers reluctant to return to the racist US. Foxtrots, Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier were the craze. Nora came from West Cork. her childhood, as one of seven, was lit up and lightened only by her grandmother., Ellen Daunt, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism on marriage. Her desire to have dancing shoes was thwarted by her brothers, whose need for shoes (the family was usually barefoot) was deemed greater than hers. As a girl, she was indentured to the local Protestant Big House, just when recruitment for World War I was at its most romantic. After the death in the Great War of a lover, a son of the Big House, she moved to London. There she found employment with a future negotiator of the Treaty of Versailles and dancing classes. The negotiator moved to Paris and so did Nora, and her dancing career, after a series of accidents, started.

Ó Muirthile successfully conveys Elizabeth Bowen’s world and style in Irish, the ambience of Paris and the folklore of West Cork. ‘Banríon an Tobair’ (the queen of the well’) is a beautiful folktale that can be read alone, as can many of the chapters in An Colm Bán – so much so that for the first few chapters I wondered whether this was a collection of stand-alone essays, memoirs and stories. Once Nora entered, the novel tensed, but I did look forward to suspending the suspense of the storyline so that I could, unhindered, enjoy Ó Muirthile’s poetic prose and rich contemporary vocabulary with help from Foclóir Uí Dhónaill.

Like Ó Muirthile, I have lived in and love Paris. I was interested in the differences in our perceptions; maybe ‘dearcadh fir, dearcadh mná’. I have cycled the towpath of the Canal de l’Ourcq but don’t know the tunnel (an tollán) close by, although I could feel the terror of being set upon there. I have lingered in the Buttes de Chaumont, a former quarry, which used to offer un spectacle with its gibbet and is now the mos imaginative public park I know. I found parts of Pigalle and Montmartre as he found Saint-Denis: to quote aa ditty on an Irish town, ‘At every door there stood a whore to mock the decent people’. I found Saint-Denis as he found the area around the Canal d’Ourcq. My Saint-Denis was multi-racial; communists were in power and fundamentalist Islam in evidence, despite having the first Gothic cathedral and an exclusive school established by Napolean for daughters of Lègion d’Honneur awardees.

One differing perception led to noticing others. In the Jardins de Luxembourg I hardly notices the Observatory. I noticed the tall statutes of France’s queens, the most unlucky surely being Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette, and the luckiest Maria de Medici. As regent for her son Louis XIII – French queens only had power when they were regents – she had her home, the Luxembourg Palace, seat of the Senate, built. She never got to live in it, ach sin scéal eile. The Jardins’ beehives were Hausmann’s sweetener to Parisians when he persuaded them to abandon their hens, pigs and vegetable-growing and move into apartment buildings.

The novel has one steam sex xhapter, bordering on the pornographic, a chapter which can also stand alone without reference to the others – a little phoney, I felt, in that it transposed a man’s sexual experience onto that of a woman. As in other historical novels, separating fiction from history can be difficult: did Catherine Anne McCarthy have companions who, unlike her, were not liberated in time from Ravensbruck? But enough of these quibbles; they are the spice of women’s book clubs. An bhfuil ceann Gaeilge ann?

There is an appendix with five of Ó Muirthile’s poems. One, le Joola, about a 2002 shipwreck off the coast of Senegal in which about 2,000 people drowned, is moving and will, I suspect be paired with Ó Raiftéire’s Anach Cuan.

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