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This review is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

ACROSS THE IRISH SEA Val Mulkerns, Very Like A Whale: A Novel of Dublin Life (John Murray) £9.95
Anne Devlin, The Way-Paver (Faber) £8.95

There was a traditional Irish expression which spoke eloquently of community and the individual: 'It is in the shelter of one another that the people live.' Both of these recent examples of Irish women writing show how things have fallen away in our time. The older writer, Val Mulkerns, a Dubliner, sings a threnody for a lost Dublin in what seems as much a condemnation of current trendiness and the social crimes and ills of our times as a novel. In a way, she is talking of Dublin as both itself and paradigm. Family life has been quietly replaced by efficient separation, a separation which endows the ageing parents with chances to regain lost individuality, and all in a cause of honest recognition of primary human needs. But even at the heart of such apparent honesty, hidden and unresolved needs and forces lurk. The reader has a world spread before him which is undeniably snooty middle-class Dublin, and he is expected to respond sympathetically to the presentation of his world brutalized in place and person in the name of progress. The novel is novel-as-documentary: we see the incursion into the high-gloss world of posh Dublin of property-developers at the top of the market, and of drug-peddlers at the bottom. She is rather more convincing about property than about heroin (though both plagues are distressingly real and poisonous); but too often what is background reads like notes made on the spot, out of both distress and anger on Val Mulkerns' ...


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