cover image The Strangers’ House: Writing Northern Ireland

The Strangers’ House: Writing Northern Ireland

Alexander Poots. Twelve, $30 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0157-7

Former bookseller Poots debuts with a lyrical ode to Northern Irish literature. Through close readings of literary heavyweights (C.S. Lewis, Seamus Heaney) and overlooked talents (Forrest Reid), Poots surveys the writings and history of a region known for fraught “political positions and cultural identities.” He contends that homesickness “pervades the writing that has emerged from Northern Ireland over the past century,” and unpacks Tom Paulin’s poem “An Ulster Unionist Walks the Streets of London” to illuminate how even Irish unionists could feel out of place in both “Catholic Ireland and indifferent Britain.” Biographical background on authors highlights the relationship between their writings and history, with an account of poet Patrick Kavanagh’s youth serving as a window into the Irish independence struggles of the 1910s and ’20s, during which he cut telegraph wires until the onset of the civil war, when he spent isolated years honing his poetry. Poots demonstrates a masterful knowledge of Northern Irish authors and his prose is at turns funny and poetic, suggesting that Lewis’s prim child protagonists act like “bank managers in training” and that poet Louis MacNeice “describes his childhood with tactile care, as if he were running his hand up the bannisters of the rectory once again.” This powerfully evokes the beauty and complexity of Northern Ireland and announces Poots as an author to watch. (Mar.)