• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Conspiracy, Blood and Filth

John Arden, at age 79, is one of the greatest living writers in Ireland. But you could be excused for not knowing that, for several reasons.

Although he has lived in Galway half his life, the Yorkshire-born Arden is not an “Irish writer”, in a nation that gets all too obsessed with such identity. (To be sure, he has dealt more pointedly with Irish issues than many an “Irish writer”.) Moreover, his “greatness”, freely acknowledged by the critical consensus in his country of birth, refers largely to his work as a playwright dating back fully half-a-century. His fiction since the 1980s, though honored (Booker nomination, PEN and Pritchett prizes), has never slammed into the zeitgeist with the  brute force of his Fifties and Sixties stage-work, some of which has been revived in recent years to considerable  acclaim.

So maybe the best idea for a reader in 2009 is to forget about the vagaries and vicissitudes of reputation and just enjoy the new Arden collection, Gallows and Other Tales of Suspicion and Obsession. (Original Writing €24.99 506pp.)

For Gallows, despite the title and its accurate suggestion of darkness and death lurking in this collection of short stories, is hilarious, entertaining, page-turning, fascinating and almost any other quality you might fancy in a damned good read, with the possible exception of “simple”.

That’s because most of the dozen longish short-stories here, set in Ireland and England across a span of five centuries, are involved in some way or another with plot, or perhaps with what our age might call “conspiracy theories”. Someone, somewhere, is always plotting, but often Arden’s main characters, and we as readers, aren’t quite in the room when the dastardly plans are being hatched, and we can’t be entirely sure we have picked them up correctly. And God knows half of the plotters could be double-agents.

From playwright Ben Jonson sneaking around the fringes of the Gunpowder Plot to a failed Anglican cleric conspiring with a Fenian prostitute for revenge against an English admiral to a shower of pretentious film-makers whispering murder against an ageing novelist at a remote film festival, Arden’s “plots” are both sublime and ridiculous, deadly serious and completely antic, of dubious but not quite dismissible historic accuracy. In “Yorkshire Sport”, for example, a small-town mayor in the 1820s calls an abrupt halt to a centuries-old traditional football match because he has been given reason to believe it may, somehow, be used to set the stage for a coup d’etat against the British government.

With typical daring, Arden begins that story by quoting an exchange between two RTÉ pundits during the 2006 World Cup, then writes: “Impossible to imagine a political personage of the twenty-first century who’d dare assert his civic probity by abolishing football. Yet there was such a hero, during the late 1820s, in the ancient Yorkshire borough of Kirk Deerwood. He was Dr Alcuin Fouracre….”

Arden tends to let the lessons of his historically-set stories speak for themselves, though the disconcerting title tale concerns a Galway child-abuse scandal from the early 18th century that literally echoes into the present day. Several stories, the final and best sequence in this wonderful book, involve that fictitious Yorkshire town of Kirk Deerwood and the centuries-long saga of the Fouracre family; and the ways these interact with and illuminate each other, jumping back and forth through history, is always interesting and occasionally breathtaking.

Arden is not afraid to get his hands dirty. The author has a well-earned reputation is as a radical, and his up-close view of anti-Iraq-war campaigning in Ireland yields some funny moments. But the stories’ political sympathies resist simplification, and all sides find themselves immersed in blood and filth, even the well-intentioned reformers who attempt to rise above the mess.

At least three or four of these stories cry out from the page for a movie adaptation, but their untidiness, their pure sodden nastiness, not to mention their often-unhappy endings, might prove Hollywood-resistant, despite all the violence.

Mind you, Arden provides something of an answer to any such resistance on the book’s accompanying DVD. Among the reasons, apparently, that Arden has “self-published” this volume via the Original Writing imprint rather than a traditional publisher is so that the paintings he has made of scenes from the stories can be seen by readers. And they are revelatory, little naïve-style dramatic scene-scapes, bright, colourful and sexy. (You can check them out, and buy copies, right here.) The pictures assure us, in case we missed it in the stories on the page, that Arden presents this material with a showman’s wink, that inasmuch as we are all headed for the gallows by a more or less circuitous route, we should enjoy ourselves in the meantime.

HARRY BROWNE lectures in the School of Media at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of CounterPunch’s Hammered by the Irish. Contact harry.browne@gmail.com

More articles by:

Harry Browne lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). Email:harry.browne@gmail.com, Twitter @harrybrowne

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 21, 2019
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
stclair
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Rare Wildflower vs. Mining Company
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail