University of Lisbon
by Zuzanna Zarebska Sanches. 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.
Edited by Anne Fogarty and Marisol Morales-Ladrón
Manchester University Press: 2022. 280 pp.
Deidre Madden: New Critical Perspectives published by Manchester University Press under the editorship of Anne Fogarty and Marisol Morales-Ladrón is an outstandingly complete and timely contribution on one of Ireland’s “most distinguished and sophisticated novelists of her generation” (1). With a preface by Frank McGuinness and a total of thirteen essays by prominent scholars in the field of Irish studies, the volume is the most complete guide to Deidre Madden’s fiction to date. This book will doubtless become a solid reference for research on a writer who is read, translated and taught at universities worldwide and whose fiction has received may important literary prizes such as the 1987 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, among many others.
The fabric of Madden’s fiction is carefully analysed in all the outstanding essays written from different perspectives and gathered under three thematic lines: “Memory, trauma and the troubles,” “Art and objects,” and “Home and place.” Needless to say, numerous ideas overlap and crosstalk throughout the three separate sections. The book, appropriately framed by a subliminally poetic preface by Frank McGuinness and an introduction by the two editors, who have long established themselves as beacons in Irish studies, closes with a most informative interview with the author conducted by Marisol Morales-Ladrón. This final conversation with the author does not only shed light on Madden’s work but aptly provides a fitting sense of closure to the collection. In this respect, the structure of the volume could not be more appropriate; the interview offers a possibility of confronting the critical voices of the previous chapters against the background of Madden’s own “imaginative affinity” (237).
Deidre Madden: New Critical Perspectives provides a balanced and yet multidimensional portrait of Madden as a multifarious writer, one who is unashamedly inspired by many different stories but takes none for granted. Its three separate parts navigate through various literary and theoretical concepts of French and German literary theory, while being heavily and consciously rooted in the history of the Irish Troubles and Irish history and culture in general. The volume is a polyphony of different yet converging narratives echoing Madden’s memories that are constantly flickering into different directions with a variety of concerns such as the Northern Irish Peace process and the memory of the darkness it had brought upon the people, the class divisions of the changing South, the Celtic Tiger or the concept of home. As Teresa Casal argues in her chapter on ethics and aesthetics in Hidden Symptoms, One by One in the Darkness, and Molly Fox’s Birthday, “the role of the novel begins” (138) where the past and the present are mutually influenced and understood in complex ways. Thus, Casal explains how the motifs of the troubled past, war and patriarchy have had a stranglehold on Irish studies yet Madden manages to emphatically sublimate it all into art, her compassion being “a pivotal resource when dealing with painful legacies” (142).
As the title of the volume suggests Madden’s work is explored from different perspectives. Thus, trauma is addressed from the point of view of the private and the public levels and through the hidden symptoms which entangle homes, families and their deeply singular and personal narratives. Can the hidden symptoms be atoned? Some authors believe that these can be ameliorated by art and seen in different light as we age and adopt a more contemplative perspective on life, transcending, like Madden, our pre/established definitions of the individual and of the collective.
In her oeuvre, Madden offers us a glimpse into the wounds that have not yet healed and that dwell in the temporalities that haunt the present. As Stefanie Lehner reminds us in her opening chapter on memory and temporality in Hidden Symptoms, One by One in the Darkness, and Time Present and Time Past, since her writing is extremely precise and yet delicate in the way it portrays its characters, we are led to be constantly “getting back at something” (19) through Barthesian punctual snapshots of history and thought. In response to that, the essays of the collection muse upon a wide range of characters, inspirations and invoke our obligation for remembering ethically. In this respect, Elizabeth Chase suggests in her contribution, some of the novels offer a new feminine form of remembrance which explore “women’s experience of trauma and of healing” (33) as one that is different from “state-sponsored, official, and male approaches to remembering the past.” (33)
Numerous themes and ideas concerning Madden’s relation to the material are inspected in the section “Art and Objects”; Sylvie Mikowski points towards the ways Madden can “access to essential truths” (84) of selfhood and “trigger the creative process” (101), according to using objects as “a way to constructing characters” (83). Heather Ingman discusses how ageing is seen as “a journey towards a more essential self” (104), whereas Hedwig Schwall focuses on object relations and the concepts of “trauma and genera” (122) as a way of further exploring the unconscious in Madden’s Authenticity.
The chapters in the book remind us that hers is the contemplative approach of the writer who carefully sketches her characters through their inner and outer environments. She manages to strike a balance between the criticism of materialist bourgeois escapism and life as a sublimated, semiotic experience without openly adhering to any. Aided by the art of remembering the things past, Madden sees in the present a possibility to heal the psychological unease, to find authenticity and to understand desire. As defended in the volume, Madden tries out ways of coming to terms with memory and with our human nature, resisting overt compartmentalization but also attempting to understand the anger and the fear that we inevitably carry with us since childhood. Many ideas related to memory and trauma are raised by Lehner as she discusses “memory images” (18) and Catriona Clutterbuck who also focuses on reflections and mirror images and comments on “a dual impulse towards commonality and uniqueness of self-identification” which she perceptively explains “constitutes a movement towards openness through respect for difference, which carries with its significant implications for the larger tribally divided communities of interest in Ireland, North and South” (51). Through a chapter who focuses on Madden’s evocation of class tensions in One by One, Brian Cliff remarks that hers is “an engagement in the world, and in the world’s multiplicity, with all the ambivalence and uncertainty that involves.” (78)
The final section of New Critical Perspectives approaches the nature of ethical reading and weaving stories affected by kinship and intimacy that either heal or corrode. Still in the abode of the metaphysical, in his “Nothing is Black: The early Celtic Tiger and Europe” Jerry White presents us with the notion of intuitive criticism, one that helps understand Madden’s “blurring the line between interiority and description (168) and provides a glimpse of what lies behind “a piece of garment” (168), behind the straightforward novelistic voice or a stroke of realism. As Elke D’hoker remarks in her piece on “imaginaries of home”, home itself undergoes various shifts and becomes a “socio-spatial site of negotiation” (198) where “remembering is part of homemaking” (197). In her intriguing essay on “the architectural uncanny” Anne Fogarty discusses how trauma and loss in Madden are often enveloped in gothic patterns “protean, faltering, and unstable” as she explains that, moreover, the gothic is intertwined with the fairy tale, the romance, the travelogue, the Bildungsroman and the allegorical and the lyrical forms (200).
Above all, New Critical Perspectives is a testimony to the richness of Madden’s fiction and its tenet philosophical inquiries into the issues of home, belonging, trauma and selfhood. But Madden emerges also in this book as the eclectic writer who shows her “self-conscious interest in the ever-shifting nature of language” (148), her “study of animals and objects in her children’s books” (147) as well as her “getting back at something” (149) as Julie Anne Stevens reminds us. New Critical Perspectives shows “how text and language can shift” (159) to reflect our multilayered realities, informed by various narratives that find their reflection in the structure of the volume. Apart from impressively dealing with the innovative aspects of Madden’s fiction, the volume puts forward the idea, explained by Derek Hand in the introductory section of his chapter, that in order for critics to recognise the complexity of Irish contemporary writing: “it might be more productive to acknowledge that nothing is ever really new and that it is important to forge links with the past as opposed to abandoning it wholesale” (216) All in all, New Critical Perspectives is a scholarly masterpiece, a map into “Madden’s creative world” (161) and a timely contribution to the study of one of the most important literary voices in contemporary Ireland.