Taken together, the books under review here cover a significant chunk of Irish literary history since the second world war. That coverage is, however, patchy in more ways than one. The most immediately intriguing of the four titles is Banned in Ireland: Censorship and the Irish Writer, a collection of interviews conducted by Julia Carlson in 1987 and 1988 with seven Irish writers whose work was at some point banned in their homeland (although "homeland" may not be the appropriate expression to use with regard to the Northerner Maurice Leitch). Prepared under the auspices of Article 19, the International Centre on Censorship, the book suffers from the earnestness of its origin in a good cause. This problem is most evident in the programmatic nature of the questions posed, which are identical in general outline and much alike even in specific detail for all seven of these very different writers. While this format does make it easy to compare the responses of the various subjects, it also for the most part precludes the exploration of inviting bypaths that open during individual conversations.
More damagingly, the questions are conspicuously directive. We all know which side we are on here, and the interviews often seem designed to either elicit horror stories of state repression or to provide ringing affirmations of artistic integrity, or both. For this reason Carlson seems genuinely disconcerted when Benedict Kiely more than once dismisses past censorship as something Irish writers "took rather lightly," when John McGahern says he sees current moves for censorship as "comic bungling," or when three writers (McGahern, Leitch, and Brian Moore) express some ambivalence concerning the principle of censorship. These would seem to be among the more potentially fruitful leads elicited by Carlson's questioning, but the agenda shaping the interviews allows little room for their exploration. Carlson can be a subtle and insightful interviewer, as is evident at [End Page 796] points throughout, but especially in the two most interesting conversations in the collection, those with McGahern and Leitch. More's the pity that the rigidity of the format she chose or accepted has kept her from properly exercising her skills.
In addition to the interviews themselves, Banned in Ireland provides a brief historical introduction and an appendix consisting of statements on censorship from some of the major Irish literary figures of this century, among them Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, and O'Faolain. Notably lacking is the actual text of the 1929 censorship statute itself or any defence or clarification of the policy from even one of the many of good if misguided faith who supported or worked it. Read with Michael Adams' Censorship: The Irish Experience (1968), Banned in Ireland provides valuable lived perspectives into how a notorious, ill-conceived, and worse-administered Irish institution functioned for four decades. It is not, however, the comprehensive casebook it might appear—even claim—to be. And that is to be regretted, for this is an issue too important to "bogeyize."
Several of the writers interviewed by Carlson are the subjects of critical essays in Contemporary Irish Novelists, edited by Rüdiger Imhof. Before discussing the collection itself, it is, unfortunately, imperative to correct the arrogant inaccuracy of its title. Ireland is, as inconvenient as this fact seems to remain for many scholars, a country with a bilingual literary culture. There is, of course, no requirement that Gaelic novelists be included in every discussion of contemporary Irish fiction, but it is unjust as well as woefully provincial to ignore them solely on linguistic grounds. This volume should, then, have been called something like "Contemporary Irish Novelists in English."
That said, the book can be regarded as a relatively comprehensive survey of...