A CONVERSATION WITH THOMAS MCGONIGLE
ABOUT HIS FORTHCOMING NOVEL
ST. PATRICK’S DAY: another day in Dublin
OBVIOUSLY ST. PATRICK’S DAY: another day in Dublin, A NOVEL TO BE PUBLISHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME PRESS, IS A CITY NOVEL IN THE TRADITION OF THOSE OTHER IRISH WRITERS OF CITY NOVELS: JOYCE, BECKETT, STUART, O’BRIEN. BUT YOU WERE NOT BORN IN DUBLIN, SO WHY THE CITY?
My grandparents were spit out of County Donegal, Ireland in 1889 at the age of 12 like so much possibly tubercular phlegm. They became inhabitants of Brooklyn and none of their many children graduated from high school and all of them died of alcoholism or the effects of alcohol. During all my years of living in Ireland I have only gone twice to the countryside. Jokingly I say pints don’t grow on trees but I knew and know that the countryside is The Famine. To be Irish and to celebrate the countryside is to celebrate a death of too many sorts but it also seems as thoughtless as a Jewish person celebrating German culture in spite of…. Do I really need to say more?
WHEN AND WHERE DID THE ACTUAL ST. PATRICK’S DAY: another day in Dublin BEGIN?
On the second floor of Patchogue High School in November, 1961 when I saw Melinda Brady and was unable to talk to her or introduce myself to her. She was two years younger than me and a sophomore to my being a senior. I decided to write a short story about an American soldier in France who dies in the trenches of WWI on the 6th of November 1918 with thoughts of a Melinda Bradley in his head. There was no response and so I wrote a second story but this time from her viewpoint of going down to the train station in Indiana and discovering his death.
THAT SEEMS LIKE A VERY ROUNDABOUT WAY OF TALKING ABOUT…?
Is there any other way of so describing the origin of a novel of the type that I have written and which I am obviously interested in? I finally did meet Melinda upon my return from Dublin in June of 1965 and I went about with her in Patchogue and into the city for the summer. But unlike a certain type of Danish movie we are still alive with her living in Northern Maine with her third husband and I am living in New York City with my third wife.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOUR BOOK?
I arrived in Dublin in September, 1964 by way of the over-night ferry from Glasgow. It had been a rough crossing and I along with many others, including infants in their mother’s arms, had thrown up. I tried to read the first book I had bought in Europe—if Glasgow can be thought of as a part of Europe—Samuel Beckett’s From an Abandoned Work. I also bought William Burroughs Dead Fingers Talk. The four days in Glasgow, after stopping for a few days in Iceland, the painting of the crucified Christ by Dali, the anarchists in George Square, a performance of the Caucasian Chalk Circle in the Citizens Theatre prepared me for the Dublin I walked that first morning from the quays to along O’Connell Street up to a bed and breakfast down the street from the Joycian school, Belvedere. And a few hours later the walk to the Friends meeting rooms on Eustace Street, a street in which I would live years later again on the top floor of a commercial building now torn down… and then still another walk in the early afternoon across Stephen’s Green to talk with a priest in Newman House about seeing after accommodation while at UCD and he sent me to 5 Orwell Park where I would spend that first year as a paying guest of the Opperman Family who ran/owned Jurys Hotel. Breakfast was presented to me in my room every morning and a Sunday lunch was provided. I was very fortunate when compared to many who found themselves in “digs” with landladies who counted the slices of toast and the minutes in the bath…
IS ALL OF THIS IN YOUR BOOK?
It is not for me to destroy any sort of suspense the reader might have when reading my book. It does take place on St Patrick’s Day… in Dublin… though in those years 1964-65 it had not acquired its subtitle, but more about that a bit later. A day starting in a building that will be torn down and ending in another building that will be torn down. It will be said that only this book remains to remember when…
TELL US ABOUT BULGARIA AND HOW IT IS PART OF YOUR BOOK , WHICH IS SET IN DUBLIN.
The close reader will notice towards the end of the book the reproduction of a check to a Lilia McGonigle for 500,000 pounds from the poet Derek Mahon and a headline FROM DUBLIN TO BULGARIA. In the so-called time of the novel none of the characters knew that one day both Ireland and Bulgaria would find themselves in the same social club called the European Community. Lilia arrived at Dun Laoghaire by ferry with me, with the recognized narrator of the novel after coming on the overnight boat train from London and before that Paris, Venice and Sofia… having spent Easter in the French countryside. We were met by Eugene Lambe who presented Lilia with her first grapefruit. Derek Mahon was in near attendance and later would write a poem about Eugene being in heaven though my own last memory of Eugene was our eating oysters together in Longacre in London where he was held hostage in a attic room by a small sculpture by David Hockney and the complete edition of My Past and Thoughts: The Memoirs of Akexander Herzen … however that is not in ST PATRICK’S DAY: another day in Dublin. Lilia and the narrator of the novel happily did not have to avail themselves of the generosity of the poet and the check was saved as reminder of a more lasting treasure we were fortunate to find in Dublin.
COULD YOU EXPLAIN THE SUBTITLE OF THE BOOK?
Happily. It was supplied by Anna Saar who is my third and last wife. Her first language is Estonian and the close reader will have noticed the dedication in the book which is in the Estonian language and I am sure recourse to a handy Irish-Estonian Dictionary will reveal the nature of the precisely worded delight contained in that aspect of the book… a detail even close readers will appreciate as such is not included in a certain book by Mr. James Joyce and thus a significant difference between the two books.
HOW DID ST. PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin ARRIVE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME PRESS IN SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, AND SOON THE WORLD AS THE RECIPIENT OF THE NOTRE DAME REVIEW PRIZE?
That’s a long question and deserves a short answer. The angels were on duty.
THE LONG ANSWER: The editor of the Notre Dame Review, William O’Rourke had the good well-developed taste to publish two pieces of other books by me: “Then” a prepared slide from Just Like That, a book from the Sixties of the last century, that was involved in part with Anthony Burgess, and “The Beginning of a Traditional Novel for the Twenty-First Century,” a book I am still composing that revolves around the painter John “Jack” Wesley who is not yet dead. Mr. O’Rourke had heard that ST. PATRICK’S DAY, which had not acquired its subtitle, was available—I will not go into the immediate reason for it being available as it is all too sordid to retell in such a pleasant circumstance as this. Mr. O’Rourke read the manuscript very quickly in the late summer of 2014 and the prize was awarded and here it is. We share an affection for the writings of Edward Dahlberg and of course take consolation in Dahlberg’s wise words, “It takes a long time to understand nothing.”
AND THE FUTURE?
Having even a more limited ability to predict the future than the Weatherman or should I say Weatherperson though Weatherwoman sounds more interesting and I have never met a woman who was not far more accurate in her predictions than…. But that is… I hope the book will find a few readers who are interested in reading a book they have not read many more times before. Of course Notre Dame seems an ideal place for such a book but then there is also Ireland itself with its native delight in begrudgery and I hope to see the book appear in Estonian, Bulgarian, Japanese, Swedish, Icelandic, Turkish, Russian… of course I worry about what people in Patchogue will think of it and the shades that inhabit Grosvenor Square, in Dublin, and it should be remembered that the duck counters are there as they always are in St Stephen’s Green since they are counting for all of us…
BUT SURELY AFTER THE FUTURE COMES THE PAST?
Yes, a 12 year old boy is always being put on a boat for America having walked from Malin Head, Co. Donegal to… he will give up his name Patrick in Brooklyn and take on Hugh which he will pass to Hugh Jr., my father, whose dying will be financing the opening scene in ST. PATRICK’S DAY: another day in Dublin…
All the sexualities are present in these pages, all the versions of intoxication, all of the versions of reading and being read, all the ways of… not dying… just yet.
St. Patrick's Day
another day in Dublin
Notre Dame Review Book Prize
Pub date: August 19, 2016
University of Notre Dame Press
Thomas McGonigle is available for interviews.
Contact: Kathryn Pitts, Marketing Manager, University of Notre Dame Press, e: firstname.lastname@example.org, p: 574.631.3267