But what the Irish and Southerners really have in common is an extraordinary - and unlikely - body of writing, a literature sprung from the rich soil of two poor places, obsessed with their painful pasts. Just as the modernist gothicism of Faulkner and Wolfe gave way to new voices such as Alice Walker, Richard Ford and Barry Hannah, so the Celtic Twilight of Yeats and the urban myth-making of Joyce has been updated by writers such as Patrick McCabe, Edna O'Brien and Roddy Doyle. Two new books, one a collection of short stories, and one a novel written by a confabulation of writers, demonstrate the continuing springtime of Irish letters.
The Anchor Book of New Irish Writing is a great buffet of tasty fiction. It covers the past 30 years in short stories and includes work by John Banville, Aidan Mathews, Clare Boylan, Desmond Hogan and Neil Jordan, among others. The definition of "new" used by the two professors who put this volume together is, perhaps, a little out-of- date. The editors seem to mean not Yeats, not Joyce and not Synge: Elizabeth Bowen is, they say, the volume's "only representative from Ireland's literary tradition." But Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan and John Banville have been publishing for 35 years and are hardly neophytes; indeed, they have created a tradition of their own against which the coming generation - writers such as Anne Enright, Eamonn Sweeney and Joseph O'Connor - rebel.