Dublin’s fair city

Isn’t it funny the way life works? Just over a month ago, it had been over a year since I’d last had a holiday. I was getting a bit antsy and tetchy, and everyone I work with can attest that I definitely needed a break. Fast forward five weeks and I’ve been on three holidays in three different countries! What a jet-setter am I? Holidays, who knew they were just like buses?

The third and final trip was to Dublin, a surprise for Steven’s birthday, and the first city break we’ve done since Amsterdam four years ago. I’m now thoroughly broken thanks to three days of trekking across the entire city, making the most of all that Dublin has to offer. And what a lot it has to offer!

Temple Bar, Dublin

Temple Bar, Dublin.

Dublin is a fantastic city. The people are friendly, the tourist attractions are varied and plenty and there is food and booze everywhere you turn – my kind of city! It reminded me of the best parts of London, New York and quaint villages, all blended together. We found out all about the political uprisings and troubles that Ireland went through, drank a lot of Guinness and as if that wasn’t enough, we discovered that there’s a huge literary heritage in Dublin.

Oscar Wilde monument, Dublin

Oscar Wilde monument, Dublin. 

Jonathon Swift, WB Yeats, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett (to name a handful) all have roots in, or associations with, Dublin. Many attended the beautiful Trinity College, others grew up in the urban hub, but all were inspired by the city and Ireland’s rich and tempestuous past.

Strolling through this vibrant and stunning metropolis, with tales of revolutions and civil wars ringing in our ears, it wasn’t hard to imagine what had inspired these literary greats. The beauty of the city itself, the impressive and courageous feats that had come to pass among those streets, the buzz and hubbub that form the pulsing heart of the city are inspiration personified. I could feel my creative juices a-bubbling and I was only there for a matter of days – imagine if you lived there?!

Dublin’s not just the home of talented writers, it’s also host to multiple libraries. I know, that sentence sent my heart a-flutter too. We visited two but only had the chance to go into one in our brief sojourn. I’m certain I could waste an entire weekend just going round Dublin’s libraries. Did I say waste? I meant invest. We admired the outside of Trinity College’s Library and pored over the contents of the Chester Beatty Library – which were particularly fascinating. There were books and manuscripts from all over the world and throughout the centuries and I spent a very happy couple of hours drooling over them.

In short, if you are a word/book nerd like I am, you should definitely go to Dublin. You can indulge in your literary obsessions and top it all off with a good pint and Irish cheer. What more could a bibliophile ask for?

 

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A Girl is a Half Formed Thing

One of the things I love most about a good holiday is the unadulterated reading time. If it is expected of you to sit by a pool for hours at a time, you might as well make the most of it and devour some great literature as you do so.

In the last week while I was away (on Skiathos, which is a beautiful Greek island) I read four books. I like to mix up literary with lighter when I’m away, to keep my brain on an even keel, and I started the week off with ‘A Girl is a Half Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride.

This book came highly acclaimed. Not only did it win the 2013 Goldsmith Prize and the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, it was also personally recommended to me and, as the cherry on top, it’s a set text for one of my MA modules. Reading this book has been a long time coming and finally, I could procrastinate no more.

It perhaps wasn’t the best choice to begin my holiday with. Everything about this book is a challenge. The structure and style are completely atypical, as the first person narration mirrors the age of the main character all the way from being a tiny baby to a twenty-something. Throughout the novel, you are dealing with incomplete sentences, only the bare essentials of grammar and no demarcation of speech whatsoever. Throw in some pretty grisly and gritty subject matter and you’re in for a tricky read.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you’ve just touched down on holiday, it’s not exactly ideal.

A standard 200-page book usually takes me three or four hours to read. This took me three days. I’m a self-professed skimmer, but if you try to skim ‘A Girl is a Half Formed Thing’ you will not understand what is going on. At all. Seriously. You have to read every single word, and I think that was a very intentional decision on McBride’s part.

Aside from the brutal subject matter, the structure and style make ‘A Girl is a Half Formed Thing’ a visceral reading experience. It’s quite clear that McBride wants her readers to be utterly immersed, to feel everything that the narrator is feeling (including confusion) and by taking such an unusual approach, she has given the reader no choice. You have to take in every tiny detail, you have to be inside the narrator’s head, you have to take what she is taking.

I can see why this novel has won awards. I can see why it’s a set text for a module examining 21st Century Storytelling. I can see all of the merits. But I can’t say I’d recommend it. ‘A Girl is a Half Formed Thing’ is fascinating and it is a triumphal achievement on Eimear McBride’s behalf – there is no second-guessing that woman’s talent. But it also feels like an academic experiment. It’s the kind of text I could pick apart and examine in minute detail, but I’m not itching to read it again and I haven’t passed it on to anyone else to read.

This is quite a rare experience for me. Generally I’m quite black and white when it comes to books – I either love them or I have good reasons why I don’t. But this novel is a conundrum. It’s clever, it’s bold but it didn’t elicit very much from me. I was relieved to finish it so that I could go on to something else. Maybe it was the wrong time, maybe I’ll read it again for my studies and suddenly find that I’m intoxicated. But for now, my reaction is a half formed thing.