University of Deusto, Spain
by Asier Altuna-García de Salazar. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
Cork: Cork University Press, 2016. 240 pp.
Bertrand Cardin’s Colum McCann’s Intertexts. “Books Talk to One Another” presents a series of individual chapters on the way in which intertextuality features in McCann’s oeuvre. This comprehensive and detailed study approaches intertextuality in depth and establishes the idea of the “talkative text” as it is understood and developed by McCann in his writings over time. The present analysis expands on the examination of the decoding of McCann’s works, especially as they refer to other works or even quote from them directly or indirectly. As the author contends, the intertextual approach this monograph offers has a twofold aim. On the one hand, it implies a critical analysis of McCann’s writings. On the other, the intention is also educational. Accordingly, the volume has the ultimate objective to bring to light and “out of the shade” a comprehensive intertextual reading of McCann’s work that has been needed. This monograph constitutes, thus, a salient contribution to many other studies that have Colum McCann’s fiction as their main object of analysis. However, the volume asserts that texts are always in contact and dialogue with other texts and have to be approached in this way too. This monograph does not deal with translations, general motifs or other references to music or film which have already been covered by other studies on McCann. Rather, the author prefers to delve into the more fruitful relationships within and between texts that can better illuminate his approach to McCann’s fiction. This might seem a flaw of the monograph. However, the author’s choice makes this volume a more detailed and analytical study. Concepts such as parody, imitation, close allusions, appropriation and transformation are also approached within wider discourses of analysis, as they shed light on sociopolitical and ideological contexts that have Ireland as a backdrop in McCann’s writings. As Cardin states, all these help in any approach to intertextuality in which intention and authority are clearly present.
Cardin’s study is divided into eleven chapters that deal with different aspects of intertextuality and different works by McCann. The point of perspective is intentionally chronological. The author chooses the dates of publication of McCann’s works as this enables a more thorough comprehension of the development of intertextuality in the Irish author’s writings. Thus, the volume starts with McCann’s 1994 collection of short stories Fishing the Sloe-black River and it ends with another collection of short stories Thirteen Ways of Looking published in 2015. It covers twenty years of McCann’s production, which is ongoing, as his latest Letters to Young Writers, recently published in 2017, attests. The eleven chapters in the present volume could be read separately as the intention is to provide a succinct analysis of each of McCann’s writings. Warning the reader of the need to have McCann’s texts in mind, the author of this present monograph offers rather a didactic analysis that, ultimately, needs to be compared and in dialogue with the own interpretation the reader of this volume may have.
Drawing on the Bakhtinian concept of dialogism and intertextuality the first chapter approaches theoretical tenets such as discourse, polyphony, diphonic discourse, enunciative discourse, memory and parody in McCann’s first collection of stories, Fishing the Sloe-black River, published in 1994. The main focus of this chapter rightly assesses parody and transgression in this first collection and compares it with, or rather, sets it within a wider context of, parody and tradition in Irish writing. Drawing on references to Flann O’Brien, Dylan Thomas, and W.B. Yeats, Cardin analyses the voices and echoes that are present in this collection with a close connection to parody. The reader is taken by the hand and shown the multiple intertexts in McCann’s work. The chapter ends with a recollection of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “kingfisher” that appeared in McCann’s 1997 anthology Phoenix Irish Short Stories. Parody in McCann’s early work acts as a revival of and resistance to previous discourses and layers of interpretation, which ultimately enhances cultural exchange and intertextuality. From parody Cardin moves to the all-present concept of myth in Irish writing and how this is used in McCann’s writing as regards intertextuality. The intertextual echoes of Thomas Moore, Lady Gregory, Marie Heaney and Greg Delanty in McCann’s use of The Children of Lir in his story “Cathal’s Lake” recall McCann’s own adaptation of this legend, and how it mixes fantasy, folklore and a more intricate comparison between tale and short story. Myth, legend and tale bring together the concept of an eternal Ireland that Cardin recalls in his intertextual analysis. Chapter three engages with the idea of dislocation and intertextuality. The idea of fragmentation is present in McCann’s early short stories and this is put into perspective when Cardin links oral storytelling with written storytelling. But, Cardin moves forward in the historical and social development of Ireland over time in his analysis of Everything in this Country Must (2000), from the colonial legacy to the reality of an independent Ireland fraught with economic and social issues, the denominational confrontation over time and its clear consequence in “The Troubles”. Intertextuality in this chapter takes us to allusions to and echoes of Paul Muldoon, Shakespeare, Sean O’Casey and James Joyce among others as a means to examine dislocation in McCann’s collections of short stories.
Family and family members have featured heavily in Irish writing with dysfunction and guilt ever present. Chapter four approaches McCann’s 1995 novel Songdogs by looking at the figure of the Irish father and the intertextual connections it offers. Moving back and forward in the life and history of the protagonist, Conor, Cardin locates intertextuality with constant references to Biblical passages and even mythological legends of Celtic origin, especially those of the Cycle of Finn. An interesting analysis of Songdogs and its intertextual relationship with Kerouac’s beat generation seminal texts, On the Road and The Dharma Bums, is provided by Cardin, as he rightly approaches McCann’s Songdogs as a Bildungsroman. The Bible as it features intertextually covers Cardin’s analysis of This Side of Brightness (1998) in chapter five. Constant references and allusions to both the books of the Old Testament and the Gospels appear in McCann’s novel, and Cardin here opts for the mytho-critical approach. As found in the Bible, the concepts of destiny, both individual and collective, and the recurrent motifs of death, resurrection and ascension appear in McCann’s novel, adapted to provide a clear view to the Irish society of the time.
Colum McCann’s Dancer published in 2003 turns a real character, Rudolf Nureyev, into fiction. Accordingly, the book plays between the realms of fiction and verisimilitude. Cardin contends that McCann’s use of Diane Solway’s biography Nureyev: his Life offers many intertextual echoes within his novel. Besides, intertextuality appears in those books read by the main characters in McCann’s 2003 novel – Gorky, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn and Gogol – although more Western writers are also present. Also closer to non-fiction and real characters is the background of McCann’s Zoli (2006), which recalls the story of a real gypsy woman born in Poland, and the subject of a non-fiction book by Isabel Fonseca. As for intertextual references Cardin believes the main motif in Zoli, that of a woman with a tragic destiny, is also close to Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter. More importantly, Cardin believes that McCann engages in this novel with the representation of minorities, xenophobia, scapegoats and the idea of “the other” as that can also be applied to the stock characterisation of Irish people over time. Both chapters eight and nine in the volume deal with McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (2009) from different perspectives. First, authorial assertion and definitions are at stake. Accordingly, Cardin engages in the examination of concepts that are closely linked to intertextuality, such as authorship, exchange and connection. Secondly, Let the Great World Spin offers McCann the possibility to put into action all those intertextual tenets he had been using in previous writings. Thus, parody, voice, and distance evince McCann’s intention to approach Ireland and the world after the 9/11 attacks. By so doing, McCann approaches trauma from a different perspective that ultimately needs social cohesion to be healed. The last two chapters in this monograph approach McCann’s most recent writings. McCann’s 2013 TransAtlantic brings back and forth concepts such as history, characters and generations between two continents. In-betweenness and diversity go hand in hand with the idea of trans- and intertextuality for Cardin. Cardin produces a detailed table with the intentional and clear similarities between McCann’s novel and that which can be claimed to be its source, i.e. John Berger’s G. (1972). The analysis of Thirteen Ways of Looking (2015) closes this analytical volume on McCann’s writings and intertextuality. Cardin believes that this collection of short stories brings the reader once again to multiple references and intertexts that have to be understood to better comprehend McCann’s latest work.
Bertrand Cardin’s Colum McCann’s Intertexts. “Books Talk to One Another” represents, thus, a detailed, illuminating, comprehensive and challenging full-length publication on intertextuality in McCann’s works that will help lovers of this Irish author’s writings approach his fiction with a new light and fresh perspective. For Cardin, McCann is a clear representative of the postmodern Irish writer as he can establish a dialogue between authority and intertextuality in a new way. The volume’s academic depth and didacticism make this volume a clear and definitive exemplar of how McCann’s works and intertextuality were in much need of scholarly assessment.