44: Dublin Made Me
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Irish writers have been on something of a roll recently. Roddy Doyle, Joseph O'Connor and Frank McCourt have all become international bestsellers and any new talent is on the wrong- -or right, depending how you look at it--end of instant hype. So where does that leave Peter Sheridan? His plays have been performed all over the world and he won the Rooney Prize for Literature in 1977 and yet he remains a comparative unknown. All this may change with the publication of his latest book. The genre is straightforward and familiar enough. 44: A Dublin Memoir is a rites-of-passage book. It starts at the beginning of the 1960s with young Peter, aged 8, scrabbling around the roof trying to fix the television aerial to it. And just as the television allows a glimpse into a world beyond the backstreets of Dublin, so we see Peter wise up from wide-eyed boy to knowing 18-year-old.
There's plenty of good material here. There's his Ma and Da, his umpteen brothers and sisters, their lodgers, births, deaths--all against a backdrop of an Ireland that is losing its innocence. But to an extent that's all by the by. Sure, it's important to catch both the humour and pathos, but where Sheridan really triumphs is in his ability to capture both the mind and voice of adolescence. So many books of this type credit the teenager with too much insight and reflectiveness. But adolescence isn't like that. I know that teenagers imagine they are fantastically deep, but the simple truth is that they aren't. Growing up is too fast, too overwhelming to really understand at the time. It only makes sense in retrospect. And this is how Sheridan tells it. He conveys the ambivalence of growing up brilliantly. By any objective token, his father is an abusive, arrogant, selfish man. But Sheridan does not ram this down our throats. Instead, he lets the facts speak for themselves while musing on the love and affection he holds for him. This childish dichotomy--the ability to accept the unacceptable and to believe the unbelievable--runs through the book. We see it in his schooling and in his dealings with other members of his family and friends. This consistency of tone creates a powerful picture of the confusion of growing up. And made me profoundly grateful that I don't have to go through it again. --John Crace
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