Neil Jordan Biography
Nationality: Irish. Born: Sligo in 1950. Education: University College, Dublin. Career: Co-founder, Irish Writers Co-operative, 1974. Lives in Bray, County Wicklow. Awards: Arts Council bursary, 1976; Guardian Fiction prize, 1979; Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, 1986; Sorrento Film Festival De Sica award, 1986; New York Film Critics Circle award, Best Screenplay, 1992; Alexander Korda award, Best British Film, Best Direction, 1993; Writers Guild American Screen award, Best Screenplay Written Directly for Screen, 1993; Academy Award, Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for Screen 1993; Golden Lion award, Venice Film Festival, 1996; Crystal Isis award, Brussels International Film Festival, 1998; Silver Raven award, Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film, 1999.
The Past. London, Cape, and New York, Braziller, 1980.
The Dream of a Beast. London, Chatto and Windus, 1983; New York, Random House, 1989.
Sunrise with Sea Monster. London, Chatto and Windus, 1994; NewYork, Random House, 1995.
Nightlines. New York, Random House, 1995.
Night in Tunisia and Other Stories. Dublin, Co-op, 1976; London, Writers and Readers, 1979.
Collected Fiction. London, Vintage, 1997.
Uncollected Short Stories
"A Bus, a Bridge, a Beach" and "The Old-Fashioned Lift," in Paddy No More. Nantucket, Massachusetts, Longship Press, 1978.
"The Artist" and "The Photographer," in New Writing and Writers 16. Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1979.
Angel (Danny Boy), 1982; London, Faber, 1989; The Company of Wolves, with Angela Carter, 1984; Mona Lisa, with David Leland, 1986; London, Faber, 1986; High Spirits, 1988; London, Faber, 1989; We're No Angels, 1989; The Miracle, 1991; The Crying Game, 1992; Interview with the Vampire, 1994; Michael Collins, Geffen Pictures, 1996; published as Michael Collins: Screenplay and Film Diary, New York, Plume, 1996; (With Patrick McCabe), The Butcher Boy, Warner Brothers, 1997; (With Bruce Robinson), In Dreams, DreamWorks, 1999; The End of the Affair, 1999.
Assistant director: Film—Excalibur (John Boorman), 1981; Director: Films—Angel (Danny Boy), 1982; The Company of Wolves, 1984; Mona Lisa, 1986; High Spirits, 1988; We're No Angels, 1990; The Miracle, 1991; The Crying Game, 1992; Interview with the Vampire, 1994.
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Irish-born Neil Jordan first came into prominence in 1976 with his publication of Night in Tunisia and Other Stories, which won the Somerset Maugham award and the Guardian Fiction prize. These perceptive stories, often about lonely or displaced people, seem strongly influenced by James Joyce's Dubliners, but to Joyce's crisp realism Jordan characteristically adds a poetic quality.
He followed this with The Past, a similarly well-received novel about a man searching for the truth about his parentage. But Jordan treats this apparently straightforward theme in a highly complex way. The novel takes us over various places in England and (mainly) Ireland over the years from 1912 to 1934. Una, a mediocre but successful actress, has a child, Rene, by Michael O'Shaughnessy, a lawyer, and marries him. There is little love, merely resignation, between them. Many years later, when the unnamed narrator comes looking for his past, Rene's close friend Lili becomes a major source of information. She tells much of the story in her own words and the narrator often addresses her. But the main narrative voice is that of the unnamed man who is rediscovering—even, he constantly insists, reinventing and remaking—the past in order to discover the truth about his own origins. The novel is an act of imaginative reconstruction, with the past often having to be guessed at, conjured up, in the absence of information. The narrator frequently directs his speculations, hypotheses, and deductions directly to Lili and by implication the reader. Jordan's writing is deeply sensuous, lyrical, almost painterly at times and saturated with visual imagery. As often in his work, both fictional and cinematic, the political and the romantic are deeply entwined, and the novel is deeply aware of what it calls "the slow irony of history." The story of the novel is to a certain extent the story of Ireland in those years. Eamonn de Valera makes frequent guest appearances, Roger Casement is arrested off-stage, and Michael O'Shaughnessy, an active Free Stater, is assassinated.
Jordan's next work of fiction, a novella titled The Dream of a Beast, could hardly be more different. Set in a mysteriously dystopian Dublin, it is the nightmarish story of a man who slowly turns into some kind of animal. He becomes estranged from his wife and young daughter, increasingly cut off from an urban world that is subtly intimated as undergoing its own dark metamorphoses. At the same time, there are strange epiphanies occurring constantly, such as a young woman who visits him in his advertising office and falls in love with him, or a young boy who also feels love for him. In the ambiguous ending it is possible even that his family returns to him. The Dream of a Beast is a deeply imagistic novel about a man who has lost touch with feelings and perhaps learns to recover them. Jordan himself has said of it that it is less Kafka than Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Given his highly visual imagination, it is not so surprising in retrospect that since this novella Jordan has turned away from fiction in favor of film, although he himself denies any conflict. He says, "I don't know any novelists, particularly the younger ones, who aren't working in film. In the fifties, people used to talk about the death of the novel and saw television as a threat to writing. Now the writers have pushed their way in." He has become a world-famous director and scriptwriter, with hits like Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, and Michael Collins. He co-wrote the original screenplay of Mona Lisa, of which he said, "The attraction of it was that it could become a love story, a contemporary moral tale with two characters so far apart, but so inherently likeable that an audience might empathize, understand each point of view, feel the depth of their misplaced passion, and yet know from the start how impossible it was."
updated by Laurie Clancy