O'Toole, Fintan 1958-
O'TOOLE, Fintan 1958-
PERSONAL: Born 1958, in Ireland.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Granta Books, 1755 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Journalist, theater critic, and author.
The Politics of Magic: The Work and Times of Tom Murphy, Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1987, updated and expanded edition published as Tom Murphy: The Politics of Magic, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1994.
The Southern Question, Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1987.
No More Heroes: A Radical Guide to Shakespeare, Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1990.
A Mass for Jesse James: A Journey through 1980's Ireland, Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1990.
Black Hole, Green Card: The Disappearance of Ireland, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1994.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef, Vintage (New York, NY), 1995.
The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of a Global Ireland, New Island Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1997.
A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Granta Books (London, England), 1997, published as A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1751-1816, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
The Lie of the Land: Irish Identities, foreword by Mike Davis, Verso (New York, NY), 1998.
Shakespeare Is Hard, but So Is Life: A Radical Guide to Shakespearean Tragedy, Granta Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Irish periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Irish journalist and critic Fintan O'Toole has bridged the worlds of literature and politics during his prolific career. O'Toole's early experiences as a theater critic for Dublin periodicals enabled him to write his first book, The Politics of Magic: The Work and Times of Tom Murphy. This is a study of the contemporary Irish playwright named in the title; in the view of Irish Literary Supplement contributor Riana O'Dwyer, it is an "important book, the first full-length study of Murphy's work." Murphy, a prolific and often controversial playwright, had allowed O'Toole access to his unpublished material and agreed to personal interviews. As a result, The Politics of Magic is usefully detailed with information and anecdotes about the production histories—including, in some cases, histories of non-production or of terminated productions—of Murphy's plays. O'Toole chronicles the change in the playwright's work from the tragedies of the 1950s and 1960s to the more optimistic plays of later decades. A theater critic with a political frame of mind, O'Toole promotes a vision of theater as a medium for transformation of public perceptions; he views Murphy as having worked with considerable success at creating "beautiful images of transformation at a time when the world seems all too fixed and inescapable." O'Toole also "convincingly," in O'Dwyer's opinion, argues that Murphy was a playwright of more than national scope.
O'Toole wore his theater-critic hat for later books, including No More Heroes: A Radical Guide to Shakespeare, and A Traitor's Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Other books, however, have focused on the contemporary situation of Irish society and politics. In The Southern Question, O'Toole takes up the idea that, as reviewer Richard Pine put it in the Irish Literary Supplement, "Ireland since independence has failed 'to create a public realm.'"
In A Mass for Jesse James: A Journey through 1980's Ireland, he offers readers a collection of essays. The title essay refers to a parish priest in Ireland who offered an annual mass for the soul of outlaw Jesse James, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland. Reviewer Pine wrote that "O'Toole has always offered a searching view of anything that speaks . . . for the unmediated concept of Ireland, and this collection regards his best journalism to date." O'Toole took up a single, complex Irish political issue at full length in his 1995 book, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef. Corruption in the beef industry in that nation, particularly with regard to exports to nations that included Russia and Iraq, was the subject of a two-year government investigation beginning in 1991, and was extensively publicized in Ireland. Reviewing O'Toole's analysis of the issue in the London Review of Books, Anne Enright applauded him for working "in the dead space created by [the] separation of the facts from the truth. . . . anatomising the clause, the memo, the precedent and protocol, in the time-honoured interest of nailing the bastards to the wall." Concluded Enright, "This book is salutary reading for all those who think that if you're making money, you're good for the country. It also provides an insight into how the rich feel persecuted." O'Toole, Enright continued, had provided "fascinating" glimpses into "how politicians simply do things, how they make their way through the rules."
In 1996 O'Toole put together another collection of journalistic essays titled, The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of a Global Ireland. In fourteen essays that a Publishers Weekly critic maintained were "brilliantly written," O'Toole examines the interplay between Irish people on the home island and those who eventually found themselves—or whose descendants found them-selves—in other lands. He also looked at his own childhood as an Irish Catholic, debunking some of the conventional wisdom on that subject. The historical transformation of Ireland into a multidimensional, global culture in the twentieth century is perhaps the overarching subject of the essays; and the Publishers Weekly critic asserted, "Taken together, these essays are a must-read for any member of our global village, ex-native or ex-emigrant."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books in Canada, March, 2003, Keith Garebian, review of Shakespeare Is Hard, but So Is Life: A Radical Guide to Shakespearean Tragedy, pp. 24-25.
Irish Literary Supplement, spring, 1989, Riana O'Dwyer, review of The Politics of Magic: The Work and Times of Tom Murphy, pp. 14, 30; fall, 1991, article by Richard Pine, p. 36.
London Review of Books, August 3, 1995, Anne En-right, review of Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef, pp. 26-27.
Publishers Weekly, December 1, 1997, review of The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of a Global Ireland, p. 41.*