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Desmond Hogan Biography

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Nationality: Irish. Born: Ballinasloe, County Galway, 1950. Education: Garbally College, Ballinasloe, 1964-69; University College, Dublin, 1969-73, B.A. in English and philosophy 1972, M.A. 1973. Career: Writer and actor with Children's T. Company theatre group, Dublin, 1975-77; moved to London, 1977: teacher, 1978-79; writer-in-residence, University of Glasgow, 1989. Awards: Hennessy award, 1971; Irish Arts Council grant, 1977; Rooney prize (USA), 1977; Rhys Memorial prize, 1980; Irish Post award, 1985. Agent: Rogers Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Ikon Maker. Dublin, Co-op, 1976; London, Writers and Readers, and New York, Braziller, 1979.

The Leaves on Grey. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Braziller, 1980.

A Curious Street. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Braziller, 1984.

A New Shirt. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

The Edge of the City. London, Faber, 1993; Boston, Faber, 1994.

A Farewell to Prague. London and Boston, Faber, 1995.

Short Stories

The Diamonds at the Bottom of the Sea and Other Stories. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1979.

Children of Lir: Stories from Ireland. London, Hamish Hamilton, andNew York, Braziller, 1981.

Stories. London, Pan, 1982.

The Mourning Thief and Other Stories. London, Faber, 1987; as A Link with the River, New York, Farrar Straus, 1989.

Plays

A Short Walk to the Sea (produced Dublin, 1975). Dublin, Co-op, 1979.

Sanctified Distances (produced Dublin, 1976).

The Ikon Maker, adaptation of his own novel (produced Bracknell, Berkshire, 1980).

Radio Plays:

Jimmy, 1978 (UK).

Television Plays:

The Mourning Thief, 1984 (UK).

* * *

The writings of Desmond Hogan testify to the strength of the creative impulse, and the fragility of those who carry it within them. In his novels and stories he depicts the struggles of isolated individuals to assert and define themselves in the face of social pressures. The tragedies he explores—whether set in rural Ireland or urban Britain—present a vision of human frailty, with characters unable to withstand the force of their own destructive passions and the smothering proprieties of the world. They are rendered vulnerable to attack by their fellows, succumbing to a collective psychological violence whose inevitable outcome is madness and suicide. The mental hospital and the dark depths of the river are images that recur constantly in Hogan's fiction. Equally common to his work are other images, the ikon objects used by his characters to give meaning to their lives.

The Ikon Maker, Hogan's first novel, describes the close, obsessional relationship between a mother and son in a remote part of Galway. Charting its growth from the boy's childhood, through the trauma of a friend's early death, and later through his travels among hippies, homosexuals, and IRA activists in England, Hogan portrays compellingly the son's desire for freedom and the fierce, all-consuming need of the mother who pursues him in a doomed effort to reestablish the original bond between them. Building up his narrative from a pattern of terse, fragmented sentences, the author draws the threads of plot neatly together, his style at once jagged and poetic. Diarmaid, the quiet, self-contained youth creating his own inner world through "ikons" of collage, and the mother struggling to suppress her rampant life-force, are both memorable. Here too, as elsewhere in his works, Hogan reveals the bleak, stultifying nature of life in rural Ireland, and its gradual change under the impact of the modern world with its television and terrorism.

The Leaves on Grey has as its central point the friendship ripening into love, of three privileged youngsters in 1950s Dublin. Growing up in a world where the ideals of the Easter Rising have already been betrayed, forming an elite distinct from their fellows, the three friends see themselves as being chosen for a noble destiny, prospective arbiters of their country's regeneration. Liam the mystic intellectual, Sarah with her religiously charged sexuality, and the narrator Sean together experience the varieties of love and loss, pursuing in their different ways the search for fulfillment. The suicide of Liam's mother, a beautiful Russian émigré, binds them closer, and shadows the course of their future lives. Hogan evokes with subtlety the characters and their shifting perceptions, and once more employs his "splintered" technique of short, sharp sentences to good effect. He also uses a device not unlike Joyce's epiphany, fixing on moments of revelation and insight which bridge chronological time and emphasize the continuity of human experience. (This device, as well as the fragmented style, is used later in the more ambitious A Curious Street). The Leaves on Grey contains the symbol which most appropriately sums up the nature of Hogan's art: the stained glass window, here the last act of creation by a dying artist, in which broken shards are fitted together and transformed by light into a vision of beauty, perfectly encapsulates the method—and the achievement—of this writer.

A Curious Street is arguably the most impressive of Hogan's novels. Taking as its beginning the suicide of Alan Mulvanney, a teacher and unpublished writer, in Athlone in 1977, the story is presented in the form of a memoir by its half-English narrator, son of the woman with whom Mulvanney enjoyed a brief, frustrating affair. Scanning these two lives and the lives of those closest to them, the narrative glides freely in and out of time, going back to explore previous generations, returning to touch on an intense threefold friendship involving the narrator himself. The novel appears to expand outward, branching through families and friends, delving by way of Mulvanney's unpublished writings into the traumas of the past—the Cromwellian invasion, the devastating famine of the 1840s, the 1916 revolution. Hogan's treatment of his subject is nothing less than inspired. As ever, he constructs from broken splinters of sentences, adroitly marshalling his devices—potted "biographies" of his numerous characters, spreading outward from the novel's core, dream-vision passages from history and legend that still strike echoes in the modern Irish consciousness, the transcendent moment linking the experience of successive generations. A Curious Street probes at the purity and the loss of innocence, the brutal violence that lurks in family relationships, the destructive power of creativity. Images of the quest, of constant journeyings in search of peace through a wartorn land, and of the ever-present threat of death and madness haunt the pages. Recent writings yield fresh explorations of those themes central to the author's fiction, touching once more on vulnerability, alienation and exile, the struggle for self-assertion in the face of tribal disapproval. The Mourning Thief and Other Stories is perhaps the most accessible, childhood memories resurfacing in the flawed hero-figures of "Teddyboys" and "The Man from Korea." "Afternoon" gives a moving account of an ancient tinker queen's adventures, while the title story examines the conflict between a young pacifist and his dying father, a former I.R.A. activist now troubled by the bombings in the North. The stories of Lebanon Lodge provide further variations on the theme—the Irish-Jewish actor of the title-story recalling the birth and death of love from exile in England, the murderous response of a rural village to illicit love in "The Players," the fraught marriage of a Catholic beauty queen and her violent clergyman husband in "The Vicar's Wife." By turns gentle and savage, Hogan's vision challenges with undeniable conviction.

A Farewell to Prague shows the author at his least accessible and most complex. The novel follows its narrator, Des, in his wanderings through Europe and the United States, his dream-visions and reminiscences. Des recounts his bisexual love affairs, his bond with the unattainable Eleanor and the doomed Marek, who later dies of AIDS. Nightmare memories pervade the text, of World War II concentration camps and racial hatred, a scenario viewed as beginning again in wartorn Croatia. As always, Hogan builds his work from disparate visual images, bringing alive the wastelands and high-rise blocks of Prague, the desolation of rural Ireland, the dirt roads of Georgia. At the heart of his narrative is the quest for love, the fight to maintain the self against the tribal will. His distrust of the herd and its values is given perhaps its most ferocious expression to date: "Community leads to fascism, the swastikas in the churches, the lilies of the valley under Hitler." His positive images are of artistic creation, the familiar talismans of the stained glass window, the ancient Russian religious ikons. In these later works, as in all his writings, Hogan assembles the shards of experience to produce a literary ikon of his own, light shining through a sequence of moments seized from the passage of time.

—Geoff Sadler

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