Monthly Archives: September 2016

Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love by Jay Spencer Green: A Review


Jay Spencer Green‘s first novel, Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s, begins with Walter Benjamin’s famous observation that there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. In his second novel, Ivy Feckett is Looking For Love, we learn that the eponymous central character is a researcher who spends her days documenting all kinds of barbarism, from the pornographic to the genocidal. But to what end, and for whom?

The unrelenting dark seamy humour with a taste for the bizarre and surreal and tightly woven plotlines that characterised Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s abound in this offering. But the setting has shifted, from a Dublin in advanced neoliberal decay and debauchery, to the striving petit-bourgeois suburbs of Birmingham, and instead of the rakish and worldly CIA agent of the first book, Ivy Feckett is bookish and reserved unsure if she might ever fit in and find love, as the title says.

The subtitle of the book is ‘A Birmingham Romance’. Though the city has been doubtless the scene for many a romance among those who have lived there, it hardly enjoys the renown of Venice or Manhattan on that score. To my sensibilities anyway, a Birmingham romance sounds as incongruous as the homemade rhubarb or cauliflower wines served up by one of the main characters. Indeed, I imagine the kind of people who imagine Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s as the sort of thing they could get their teeth into might be a little cooler on this book, if they were to go by the title alone.

That would be a great pity, since I think this book in many ways outstrips Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s in depth and ingenuity. It comes in the wrapping of a romantic comedy-mystery, and with its narrative twists and engaging characters it works splendidly on that level alone. But it also reaches for weightier social, political and philosophical questions too: what if the objects of our desire in human form are the very things that turn us into a means to their end? What happens when we devote all our energies to producing the very things that might destroy us? Where do love and kinship lie amid social structures that prize the likes of family values, religious devotion and entrepreneurial endeavour but are really a breeding ground for sociopaths and con artists? And can riding in a donkey derby really give you an orgasm?

The answers, such as they are, emerge in an ingeniously tale suffused with warmth and affection, for its characters (well, most of them), the places they inhabit, and the social world that brought them into being. But Jay Spencer Green is too astute a writer, a narrator with too keen a nose for the scent of abounding darkness, to allow what is ultimately a story about love, friendship and solidarity in the face of pervasive villainy to be padded out by gratuitous sentimentality. At the very least, Ivy Feckett ought to cement Green’s status as a cult novelist, and not just because this is also a novel about a religious cult. The book is accessible enough, and so abundant in fiendish humour and grounded optimism, that it could well be the founding document of a worldwide religion.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Support The Dublin Bus Workers – Again


Reposted from three years ago, with slight edit.

I fully support the Dublin Bus workers in their fight to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it really is still hard to take the abject whinging and sniping from ordinary people who think collective action in protection of wages and conditions is some kind of outrage against natural justice.

What, you think the IMF wants you to live a long and prosperous life? You think the ECB is on your side? You think the weekend, paid holidays and sick leave are gifts from above, from the likes of Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond and John Bruton [ADDS 2016: or Tim Cook and Apple]? You think Leo Varadkar finds it hard to sleep at night because you struggle with your bills?

Things such as weekend, paid holidays and sick leave were fought for and won through long years of struggle on the part of working people. The thrust of public policy in Ireland, as elsewhere, is toward the destruction of the social fabric, in the interests of the wealthiest in society. The goal is to crush the power of organised labour, privatise public services and roll back the social gains that took decades of effort on the part of working people to achieve. This is a pattern we have seen time and again, in the US, in the UK, in Greece, in Spain, and presently, in Ireland.

It takes resolve and determination to stand up to that, and I have nothing but contempt for the sniveling hyenas who think other people’s wages and conditions should be destroyed simply because they themselves have no rights at work and because they think the best way of saving their own hide is to ape their boss.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Apple Order

Yesterday I dropped off €115 to the children’s primary school, to cover the cost of materials. This payment is on top of the hundreds of euro already paid for school textbooks.

As I may have mentioned before, this is something of an alien practice to me. In Northern Ireland, where I went to school, the costs of school materials are covered through general taxation.

There are advantages to school materials being paid for through general taxation: for one, it fastens the principle that education isn’t a commodity but a public good. Here, not only is getting a good education good for you, but it is also good for me and everyone else, and so everyone contributes to the education of everyone else. The reality of the UK education system as a whole does not quite reflect this principle, of course, yet the principle, for most people, is still worth having.

In the Republic of Ireland, the fact that school material costs have to be paid for by parents fastens the contrary principle: education is a commodity, not a public good. According to this, your education should, at the end of the day, come at your own expense. Anything else is a temporary concession, not a right.

When, in your childhood years, and somewhat beyond, it comes at your parents’ expense, this is bound up with the sense that you are your parents’ property, a commodity in their portfolio to be developed. In so far as you pay for the education of others, this is thought of as an unwelcome imposition, more than anything else. From this perspective, the State supplies education services as a consumer good. You pay for them through your taxes because this is the most cost-effective way of acquiring these services.

In practice, all the best people in the Republic of Ireland pay for their own children’s schooling out of their own pocket because educating your child means getting everything for them, even if it means nothing for everyone else. Well, not entirely out of their own pocket, mind you, since the cost of teachers in the exclusive fee-paying schools they use is borne by the State. And why shouldn’t the State pay for it? Aren’t these parents making a far greater sacrifice for their children than those who send their children to fully-funded state schools and who prefer buying cigarettes and alcohol to shunting their children further upwards the ladder of respectability?

While we’re at it, why shouldn’t the State incentivise top executives, who wish to move to Ireland to create jobs, by effectively subsidising them in sending their children to private schools? I am pleased to report, once again, the State actually does this at the minute. If you’re a top executive in, say, Apple, then Apple can pay your child’s private school fees up to €5000 tax-free, for each child. Better that the money goes in that direction rather than, say, providing school materials free to the undeserving, or making the gilded offspring of top execs endure the indignity of learning alongside the great unwashed.



I had a brief exchange on Twitter recently on related matters with a government TD, Noel Rock. Rock claimed that it was wrong for people who had to make do without a third level education to be paying in order for others to receive one, as would be the case if third level education were paid for through progressive taxation. Well indeed: and while we’re at it, why should older people pay for younger people to learn how to make the world a better place, when they’re going to be dead anyway? Let old people pay private firms through the nose for all their geriatric medicine before they die, and to hell with them if they can’t. Sure didn’t Christine Lagarde say people were living too long anyway. Conversely, why should the young contribute toward the pensions of the old, who have already had their chance? With intellectual heavyweights like Rock to the fore in politics, at least the war of all against all will be short.


The other night I was putting the school textbooks into the children’s bags and I opened up the Senior Infants textbook ‘Grow in Love’. It is a religious education book. It cost us €8.99. Earlier in the day I had read posts from people who were -rightly, in my view- incensed that the State broadcaster RTÉ had shown live of Mother Teresa’s induction into Heaven’s Hall of Fame. Well, here’s what they teach 5 year olds in Ireland’s state-funded schools in 2016, so it’s not as if RTÉ was doing a solo run on this. Just as you pay your licence fee to RTÉ so that it tells you why you need to give up your auld sinful attachments to pensions and universal benefits, you also pay for your children to learn to admire someone who thought the poor accepting their lot was a beautiful thing. But it doesn’t stop there: the child is supposed to read it with her family. So you are, in fact, paying for your child to proselytise to you about the virtues of charity.

‘Help us to learn from the lives of Mother Teresa, and other holy men and women’, says the prayer in the textbook made for the five-year-old in a State-funded Irish school but paid for by her parents because it is the responsibility of parents, not Apple and not Denis O’Brien, to pay for their children’s education. Many people who were poor lived in Calcutta, the tableau informs, as if they could just as well have lived in Blackrock or Foxrock but somehow wound up in Calcutta. The Catholic tradition of selecting and venerating saints has a very dubious history, to say the least. Most such saints either came from the upper orders in the society in which they lived, or, they were lowly figures whose sainthood was bestowed because they learned to accept their lot in life. And of course the example of their sainthood is usually contrasted with the venality and fallen nature of the rest of us. There is a kind of continuity, then, between the worship of saints and the cult surrounding stupendously wealthy CEOs and celebrities. There is something singular about them, something that confines us to individuality, not collectivity. The simple account of Mother Teresa in the book for five-year-olds is not all that different from the way such stories are presented to adults, either. You are led to forget, in Mother Teresa’s case, but also in the case of glittering billionaires, that most of the work was not done by them but by the great many others who elevated them to prominence.

All this has the effect of loosening you up to believe that if the likes of Apple have accumulated vast profits, then it is because people like Steve Jobs or Tim Cook have conjured them out of an unpromising nothing, something you, o lowly one, could never do. Or, as Marx puts it, the more value we create, the more valueless and worthless we become. Hence, maybe they are entitled to that money after all, and maybe they are right when they say that they pay tax because the people who work for them pay tax, and that in fact it is the rule of capital that gives life to us as political beings, and that we should just submit to it once and for all, less this life be taken from us altogether.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Against The Family


There is nothing natural nor primary about ‘the Family’, the entity enshrined in the Irish constitution. ‘The Family’ is an ideological abstraction, and an obnoxious one at that. The ways in which people live together and experience kinship are not fixed in time, and even now are far more varied than this looming abstraction would have you believe. What is more, the roles of parent and child contained in the family ideal have not always been the norm, not least since the way we recognise children nowadays is something quite new in human history.

Given that the constitution declares ‘the Family’ as ‘the necessary basis for social order’ and ‘indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State’, it should come as no surprise that any event that calls the validity of this ideological abstraction into question should meet with a defensive reaction on the part of those who have come to see the current social order as the natural order of things, and who see it as their calling to defend this order. Indeed, the State has a horrifying history of punishing those who do not fit in with this order.

The imaginary beast of ‘Middle Ireland’, in the minds of those who speak about it and write about it, is largely composed of a vast host of Families who conform more or less to the Family ideal set out in the constitution. Little platoons, as Edmund Burke put it, comprising pillars of the community, small-c conservatives who will always do you a good turn and who will prove decent to the core in your dealings with them. There they are, at GAA matches, at Tidy Town clean-ups on the roadside, chatting with the priest after Mass. Practical-minded people who have no truck with fancy notions that might disturb the idyll that largely prevails. Responsible breadwinners and devoted mammies. In this regard it is not surprising that a large part of the popularity -in so far as he is popular- of the current Taoiseach rests on the image fashioned of the active GAA man and schoolteacher, down to earth and full of bonhomie.

Alan Hawe certainly seemed to fit the bill in this regard. It may well be that those who spoke so highly of him in the wake of his murderous rampage had previously seen in him the kind of person that they themselves ought to be, because he appeared to conform so well to this image of the world, which many people presume to be the right one. For the chroniclers of ‘Middle Ireland’, the very idea that ‘the Family’ itself gives life to a multitude of atrocities, that it amounts in many cases to a form of prison, particularly for women and children, is not so much unpalatable as unthinkable, and so they seek out voices that confirm that whatever about Alan Hawe, all is well with ‘the Family’ as such.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized