cover image Irish Fiction, the Penguin Book of

Irish Fiction, the Penguin Book of

Various. Viking Books, $40 (1200pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89108-5

It's hard to keep up with Irish literature, and it's difficult to take stock of; the backlist, as it were, shifts constantly, being a cultural tradition subject to the winds of politics and whatever a nation's self-image is at the moment. The continuing productivity of the Irish--and their diaspora--also contributes to the changing face of the overall accomplishment. So it is never redundant to refashion Irish literature--in this case, Irish fiction--and T ib n is an excellent choice, being an expert novelist (The Heather Blazing), a superb travel writer and historian (Homage to Barcelona) and young enough to be hip to the newest writers. His take on the Irish tradition is complex and bracing: it is, he says, ""strangeness"" itself. An awareness of the proximity of England and France makes the Irish writer aware of what is missing; and the three subjects that dominate Irish fiction are fire, men killing women, and fathers and sons. In his invaluable introduction, T ib n provides readers with a handy survey of writing in Ireland from the time of Swift till the latest by Colum McCann. In between, he includes selections from the standard-bearers (what to chose from Ulysses? The demotic Irish speechifying of ""Cyclops""), from the lesser known and the unknown: John Broderick, from his beautiful The Trials of Father Dillingham; the funny Benedict Kiely. This is an exhaustive volume, and one with much variety. And its very last lines are apt, drawn from ""Going Back,"" by Emma Donahue (b. 1969): ""They wandered down the street past the restaurant, past the pub, coming to no conclusion. Like tails of a cloud, their voices winding around and in and out."" Readers who wander into this long, big book will find conclusions perhaps hard to come by, but the Irish air is unmistakable. (Mar.)