Bolger, Dermot

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BOLGER, Dermot

Nationality: Irish. Born: Finglas, Ireland, 6 February 1959. Education: Attended Beneavin College Secondary School. Family: Married Bernadette in 1988; two children. Career: Founder and editor, Raven Arts Press, Finglas, Ireland, 1979-92; executive editor, New Island Books, 1992. Awards: A. E. Memorial Prize, 1986; Macaulay Fellowship, 1987; Samuel Beckett Award; Stewart Parker BBC Award; Edinburgh Fringe First Award; A. Z. Whitehead Prize. Agent: A. P. Watt, 20 John Street, London WC1N 2DR, England.



Night Shift. Dingle, Ireland, Brandon, 1985.

The Woman's Daughter. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1987; expanded edition, New York, Viking, 1991.

The Journey Home. New York, Viking, 1990.

Emily's Shoes. New York, Viking, 1992.

A Second Life. New York, Viking, 1994.

Father's Music. London, Flamingo, 1997.


The Lament for Arthur Cleary. Dublin Theatre Festival, 1989.

Blinded by the Light. Dublin, Abbey Theatre, 1990.

In High Germany. Dublin Theatre Festival, 1990; Dublin, New IslandBooks, 1999.

The Holy Ground. Dublin, Gate Theatre, 1990.

One Last White Horse. Dublin Theatre Festival, 1991.

A Dublin Quartet (contains the plays The Lament for Arthur Cleary, In High Germany, The Holy Ground, and One Last White Horse ). London, Penguin, 1992.

The Dublin Bloom. Philadelphia, Annenberg Theatre, 1994; published as A Dublin Bloom: An Original Free Adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses. London, Nick Hern Books, 1995.

April Bright; and Blinded by the Light: Two Plays. London, NickHern Books, 1997.

The Passion of Jerome. London, Methuen, 1999.


The Habit of Flesh. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1979.

Finglas Lilies. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1980.

No Waiting America. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1981.

Internal Exiles. Mountrath, Ireland, Dolmen Press, 1986.

Leinster Street Ghosts. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1989.

Taking My Letters Back: New and Selected Poems. Dublin, NewIsland Books, 1998.


A New Primer for Irish Schools (nonfiction, with Michael O'Loughlin).Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1985.

Contributor, The Crack in the Emerald: New Irish Plays, edited byDavid Grant. London, Nick Hern Books, 1994.

Editor, Manna in the Morning: A Memoir 1940-1958 by MadeleineStuart. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1986.

Editor, The Dolmen Book of Irish Christmas Stories. Mountrath, Ireland, Dolmen Press, 1986.

Editor, The Bright Wave: Poetry in Irish Now. Dublin, Raven ArtsPress, 1986.

Editor, 16 on 16: Irish Writers on the Easter Rising. Dublin, RavenArts Press, 1988.

Editor, Invisible Cities: The New Dubliners: A Journey through Unofficial Dublin. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1988.

Editor, Invisible Dublin: A Journey through Dublin's Suburbs. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1991.

Editor, Francis Ledwidge: Selected Poems. Dublin, New IslandBooks, 1992.

Editor, Wexford through Its Writers. Dublin, New Island Books, 1992.

Editor, The Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction. London, Picador, 1993.

Editor, with Aidan Murphy, 12 Bar Blues. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1993.

Editor, Ireland in Exile: Irish Writers Abroad. Dublin, New IslandBooks, 1993.

Editor, Selected Poems by Padraic Pearse. Dublin, New Island Books, 1993.

Editor, The Vintage Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction. New York, Vintage Books, 1995.

Editor, with Ciaran Carty, The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction. Dublin, New Island Books, 1995.

Editor, Greatest Hits: Four Irish One-Act Plays. Dublin, New IslandBooks, 1997.

Editor and contributor, Finbar's Hotel. London, Picador, 1997.

Editor and contributor, Ladies' Night at Finbar's Hotel. San Diego, Harcourt, 2000.


Critical Studies:

No Mean City? The Image of Dublin in the Novels of Dermot Bolger, Roddy Doyle, and Val Mulkerns by Ulrike Paschel, New York, P. Lang, 1998.

* * *

Dermot Bolger is one of the most remarkable products of Ireland's institution of universal secondary education in 1968, which produced a wider population of readers and writers of fiction independent of the universities and, arguably, the necessary number for a national audience for a national literature apart from the imaginative needs of England and America. This new guild of fiction readers and writers is necessarily Bolger's age and younger, which may account for the freedom with which Bolger described the "suburban under-belly" (Fintan O'Toole's sensational phrase) of Dublin. Bolger began writing convincingly not only of this class, but to this class.

Critics who early on disparaged the "Finglas school of writing" missed the utopian element never far from Bolger's writing and his work as a publisher. Night Shift, Bolger's first novel, describes the working conditions of eighteen-year-old Donal Flynn, who works the press at a factory, and lives with his young wife in a caravan at the bottom of her parent's garden. Donal's conflict is a common one, the competing loyalties to the wild freedom of his mates and his love for Elizabeth. Like all of Bolger's work, the story line is distinctive, arresting, and heading creatively for surprises.

Although she tries, Elizabeth can hardly fit herself to the rude male humor and dissolute behavior of Donal's friends. They are sympathetically portrayed, and the reader is given a full tour of the working class youth culture north of the Liffey, but at the same time is ready to agree with Donal that it is more than time to go home.

Donal does go home the morning after a final farewell to his youth, to find that Elizabeth is in the hospital. In her frenzied worry and despair over her husband's absence, she has fallen down the stairs, losing their baby. Donal tells her that he has come home to her to love her better, but his irresponsible self-absorption that has caused her such pain has taught her that she needs to take care of herself better. She hands him her ring and leaves him.

Bolger compares more than favorably with the self-absorbed quality of masculinity of other famous first-novel portraits of the artist like Sons and Lovers and Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man itself. The ethos of Night Shift is startling and inexorable: a young man even genuinely repentant can lose the love of a good woman, forever.

The Woman's Daughter first appeared in 1987, consisting of what are now Part I and sections of Part III of the final 1991 version. There is the abuse of more than one woman's daughter to follow, and the parallels and connections between stories and times are not merely formal. Bolger's characters are authentically haunted by people from the past. The poetry (Leinster Street Ghosts ) and drama (The Lament for Arthur Cleary ) of this period begin colluding with the fiction in considering hauntings as well as haunting each other: poems turning into plays and novels. The last narrator of The Woman's Daughter accepts in all their names the imperative of past voices: "let us live on again through you, don't cast us into the darkness where our names and lives will have all meant nothing."

The Journey Home shares with Nightshift the setting of suburban and north of the Liffey Dublin and a complex narrative sequence. Despite the title, the resonances are more public than domestic. Bolger borrows from postwar Italian film the metaphor of sexual perversion standing for political perversion to scandalize an Irish public inured to corruption. Perhaps the most sensational of his novels, it begins and concludes with Hano and Katie on the run from the police, because Hano has avenged his friend Shay's death by killing one of the notorious and politically influential Plunkett family. Solely in this novel Bolger offers a short glossary at the beginning, annotating Irish political and street slang.

Emily's Shoes risks the untouchable status of fiction that speaks for the dispossessed and voiceless by focusing on a child growing up with real problems but manifested in a fetish (for shoes) that has been used to ridicule psychological theory since Freud. It is up to the reader to decide if Bolger has transcended the stereotype to reach the boy's pain.

A Second Life is perhaps Bolger's greatest novel. It begins with Sean Blake's spirit floating above the nearby Botanical Gardens while seeing his body below in a car accident. We gradually realize that he is having a near-death experience. As Blake reluctantly recuperates he follows two spiritual hauntings: he tries to find his biological mother who gave him up for adoption, and to identify a face he saw when he was near death, a face that is associated with the past history of the Botanical Gardens. The novel also follows Sean's mother, who "hears" the crash in Dublin although she lives in England. As Sean works his way back to her, the novel brings her story forward, how she was forced into an institution for unwed mothers, forced to give up her child.

Sean ultimately gives up the search for the mysterious face from someone else's life to work harder on sorting out his own. Painfully, he finds his mother's identity a few days after she has died, still waiting for him to find her, but there is a magnificent reconciliation scene at the end, when Sean takes his family to the graves of his grandparents who cast his mother out, and releases his mother's ashes there. Like many of Bolger's novels, his feeling for the collective psyche of Ireland is uncanny. The novel was being published just as there was a long-delayed public investigation in Ireland of how women were hidden away in institutions for real or imaginary sins.

Tracey Sweeney is the narrator of Father's Music. We begin with her relationship with a married Irishman Luke Duggan who has left behind his family's notoriety in Dublin to run tile shops in London. Unknown to Luke, Tracey is herself half-Irish; her mother married an itinerant sean-nós singer three times her age while on a trip to Ireland, but he left her shortly after Tracey was born. Gradually uncovered is a damaging week in Tracey's past, when her mother took her back to Ireland to escape her restrictive parents, to perhaps find her husband. While in Dublin her mother stopped using the medication that kept her from succumbing to her depression. Tracey, aged eleven, is able to slip away from her mother in the streets of Dublin. She runs with a group of traveler children supporting themselves on what they can steal or scam, but she is sexually assaulted by a man before her grandfather comes to Dublin to bring her and her mother back to England.

The reader is as uncertain as Tracey herself whether to trust her middle-aged Irish lover. At times he seems to love her, at times he seems to be using her to screen a major crime. The novel profits from Bolger's longstanding involvement in traditional Irish music, as it follows Tracey's attempt to find her father. Luke is murdered before her eyes in the west of Ireland when they are close to finding her father. As the novel ends, Tracey, wrung nearly empty by all the pain, sits in a pub listening to her father. As if in a dream, she is recognized both by the pub owner and her father as her mother's child.

Temptation shares with Bolger's earlier work only the author's intention to imagine the real lives and intimate responsibilities of others in an arresting and unpredictable narrative. Alison, her husband Peadar, and their three children, go for their annual holiday at a hotel on the coast of Ireland south of Dublin. We first review the family's anticipation. Later, we discover that Alison's father, who once worked in the kitchen in Fitzgeralds, began the association of holidays there in Alison's mind by taking the family there once.

Peadar is preoccupied with his responsibilities as a headmaster; Alison has been waiting all term to tell him that she had a benign tumor removed from her breast. Peadar is called back suddenly when the construction company building an addition to the school goes bankrupt. Alison is left alone with her children for their five-day holiday, making her think more than once, "I gave up my happiness to make another person happy."

As deftly as ever Bolger wires a series of shocks to the reader. Chris, an old acquaintance who was in love with Alison twenty years before but who timidly deferred to Peadar, shows up at Fitzgeralds. Having recognized him after a bit, we follow Alison as she tries to match him with a wife and children from among the other guests, but she is told later that he lost them in a car accident. He is there to try to make some peace with the memory of his family before he leaves Ireland forever.

His presence makes Alison wonder about her life with Peadar. After several intense encounters, and a final episode where she saves Chris from drowning himself, Alison awaits her husband, "her lover [who] would be here in the morning for her" to take her and her children back home. One must admire the felt stress and importance of elementary kinships that run across the considerable range of class and experience Bolger has presented in his novels, from working class Finglas to a posh hotel at Rosslare.

William Johnsen

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