Einstein was right, time is distance. John Banville asks ‘when does the past become the past?’ The answer, of course, is it doesn’t, but it does. Recently, the citizens of Ireland voted to modify the law and allow women to have abortions in their country. Banville tells a story of how his mother was reprimanded by the parish priest for reading ‘Women’s Own’ magazine showing the influence of the Catholic Church in controlling people’s lives. Only Eastern European and Communist countries Banville suggests could compare with nineteen- fifties Ireland. She did as she was told and stopped reading it. For those of you that don’t know about ‘Women’s Own’, it’s about as racy as an Enid Blyton book. The irony noted by Banville is Dublin had historically more prostitutes than most modern capitals.
Curiously, gay marriages, shouldn’t be such a shock. This crops up in the only novel of Banville’s that I’ve read, set largely in Dublin, The Book of Evidence, and has the protagonist trying and failing to remember the taxi driver that stalks him because he owes him money, and he finally, calls him Reck, well, Reck appears here too, alive and not kicking, and gay pubs feature with abandon as they do in literary Dublin. Or indeed, unliterary Dublin. Pubs and cinemas that’s where people found their culture. Glasgow is very similar, but less understanding of the queer fellows or local ‘characters’. Dublin was ahead of London or even New York. This is shown with a brilliant vignette.
One day I witnessed an epicene young man, as camp as Christmas, step balletically off one of those buses as it was drawing to halt. When it had stopped, the conductor, a diminutive fellow, appeared brandishing a furled umbrella. ‘Hey fairy,’ he called, jeeringly, after the departing dandy. You forgot your wand!’ The young man stopped, turned, strolled back, took the umbrella, and tapped his taunter lightly on the shoulder with the tip of it, saying, ‘Turn to shit, evil dwarf!’
I’m not really one for studying photographs. But for the descriptions alone this book is worth reading. Dublin is full of hidden corners and hidden pens. Banville, included. Read on.