Commendations for the works of James Lawless.
Poem: The Miracle of the Rain, winner of the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition (2002).
‘The entire drama is conveyed with such subtlety and delicacy. It’s one of the most moving poems about faith that I have come across, and its impact relies largely on what is not stated. Instead, it wakens our imaginations.’
Adjudication by Hilary Llewellyn-Williams.
Short Story, Jolt (2007)
‘Standing in a soft cotton towel, the night air caressing him like a heating fan, he looks out through the open shutters of the veranda. He hears the waves breaking on the shore to the haunting chant of the muezzin echoing over the minarets and onion domes of the mosques. To the west a huge globe of sun is setting. He looks back at his wife sleeping, her head partly covered by the sheet, a sleeve of her white nightdress sticking out, revealing an arm as if dismembered. He listens for her breathing, not loud as it sometimes is, but gentle now, in harmony with the waves.’
From Jolt which was shortlisted for the Willesden Prize and appeared in New Short Stories1, edited by Zadie Smith (London/New York, Willesden Herald).
Novel: Peeling Oranges (2007)
‘A book to lose oneself in. I highly recommend it.’
Gabriel Byrne, Hollywood actor and writer.
‘The author weaves story and historical facts together without the book reading like textbook. Stories like this are important because it illuminates the human experience in different parts of the world. Though dense, “Peeling Oranges” is a labor of love to get through, and in the vast sea of fiction it is a true hidden gem.’ Malka in Contemporarybooks.com
‘This novel is a fluid mass of symbolism, ideas, opinions and historical insights held together with literary efficiency by Derek’s tentative journey through his parents’ pasts into his own present. Effectively an orphan of the Revolution, he moves on just into the post-revolutionary phase of an Ireland not secured by rusty chains to the skirts of England, but emerging into the a-historical materialist world as an independent nation in the European Community.
On the cover: ‘A book to lose oneself in. Highly recommended.’ Gabriel Byrne
I certainly lost myself in it. It is a great read.
Highly recommended.’ Wendy Robertson from Writing Life Twice Tasted.
‘Buy a copy of Peeling Oranges by James Lawless and settle back for an Irish classic you’ll long remember.’
from Goodreads review by John Dizon, 24th October 2014
‘This is a well written novel which manages not just to tell its own story but also to weave together different strands of Spanish and Irish politics.’
‘Lawless has a way with language.’
‘This is a wonderful, involving story of high quality prose fiction.’
Hot Press magazine.
Short Story: Brown Brick (2008), prize winner in the Biscuit International Prize for Short Stories (2011).
‘Perhaps the most technically assured and vivid piece is Brown Brick by James Lawless, a simply surreal blend of black humour, metaphor and gritty but exquisitely executed urban squalor, which for all its ingenuity never loses the soul of its story.’
Alec McAllister in The Sunday Business Post’s review of The Stinging Fly’s short story anthology Let’s Be Alone Together.
‘The slow demolition of a house by the mysterious Mr Washington in James Lawless’s Brown Brick becomes a fitting metaphor for the destructive drug addiction of its central characters.’
Anne Fogarty, professor of James Joyce Studies at UCD reviewing Let’s Be Alone Together in the Irish Times.
Novel: For Love of Anna (2009)
‘Apart from being a moving love story, For Love of Anna is a must-read book for the times we live in, with its deep questions about our capitalist norms and the ambiguous morality of the some of our righteous leaders.’
Therese Woodburn, Amazon review.
‘It is a love story crossed with a political thriller. The lovers are student Guido van Thool and ballerina Anna Zweig. She introduces him not just to love but to political activism also. The other character in the novel is the corrupt judge, Jeremiah Delahyde. When the drunken judge knocks down and kills Anna on New Year’s Eve, it seems the law cannot or will not touch him but Guido sets out to get revenge.’
‘For Love of Anna has made me love the way Lawless tells a story. and led me to read two of his books Finding Penelope and the Avenue), and I won’t be stopping here. When I read Lawless I feel like the time when I was in college and a single Grisham novel was never enough, and you had to get your hands on another just as you were finished with one. Of course, I’m not comparing the authors, but only stating that Lawless is one master of a storyteller.
In For Love of Anna, Lawless incorporates into a simple boy meets girl plot, a deeper aspect of our world’s gentry that is mixed in white collar offence. A look into what power does to people, and what people can do to get that power. How a single turn of events can create a chain reaction of enormous proportions and lead even the simplest of people to do the unthinkable.
What happens when the very people who are chosen by us to uphold the law, break it and cause insufferable pain? And what happens when those very people try to bend the law that they make themselves only so they can get away with the punishment that comes with committing the crime. And would you really blame the people whose lives are singularly affected by the crime, when they take the law into their own hands after such injustice is done? Ask yourself all these questions while reading this book and all the grey shades of our law system and the law holders start to become apparent.’
Sara Hadi, Amazon review.
‘A worthy tale of moral corruption, zeal, cynicism and greed. How the worlds of anarchism and art are played off each other is interesting and kept me reading, besides the character development of Anna and Guido.’
Iznaya Kennedy, Goodreads review.
‘For Love of Anna bY James Lawless is one of the finest 5 STAR pieces of writing I have read in recent years.,
Deepak Menon, Amazon review, May 1, 2014.
Short Story: The Kiss (2009)
‘My thoughts began to weigh heavily outside Nimes. Cars whizzed by impervious to the Irish flag on my haversack or my tired thumb still coyly poised. A gloom set upon me with the darkening evening, and the lights going on in the city down a little way from me. I was reconciled to turning back towards the youth hostel, which I’d spotted coming through the town, when a blue Citroen slowed, coasting past me, stalling. Then, to the beeping of other cars, it reversed and the passenger door was pushed open. ‘I’m heading for Spain,’ I said, knowing I should have had a placard with Spain on it and not just an Irish flag which could be going anywhere.’
From The Kiss, shortlisted for the Hennessy emerging fiction award and published in the Sunday Tribune, New Writing, 04-01-09, and in the French Literary Review, Issue No 12, October 2009.
Study of Modern Poetry: Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World (2009), winner of the Cecil Day Lewis Bursary award.
‘This is the work of an insatiable reader, a gifted scholar, a natural philosopher and a writer passionately convinced of the spiritual value of poetry.
Clearing The Tangled Wood is an appropriate title because James Lawless insists on a clarity and candour in an artistic area where criticism is often needlessly complicated and sometimes confusing. Lawless explores poetry for what it is a special world with a vitality, identity and mystery all its own. Clearing The Tangled Wood is a thrilling sequence of revelations, a beautifully written work of love, pleasure and insight.’
Brendan Kennelly, poet.
‘A linguistic ballet, learned and lively, on behalf of poetry.’
John Montague, poet.
‘A book of great scholarship but also of great hope. To all practitioners of poetry it gives an important epistemological grounding to our work. It is like a safety net to a trapeze artist we can swing higher and leap farther, knowing that this work lies beneath us. This book has given me back my belief in poetry as not only a useful discipline but an essential manner of being in the world. What more can I say?’
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, poet.
‘Impressive in its references among other works of criticism, and of opinions and general concepts.’
Thomas Kinsella, poet.
‘In this luminous and wide-ranging meditation, James Lawless considers the dynamics of creation. for him the poet is one who, in reconnecting us with our buried selves, also invents a new way of seeing the world.’
Declan Kiberd, Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at University College Dublin.
‘Clearing the Tangled Wood is a wonderfully compelling and elegantly written book which does, indeed, clarify and shine light on the evolution of poetry in a clear and rigorous way, seeking out and analysing the contributions of numerous poets in an insightful and affectionate way. It is a valuable, well written and enjoyable work through which a reverence and love for poetry, words and form is at all times discernible.’
Michael D Higgins, poet and President of Ireland.
‘This is a sophisticated and engaging study of why poetry matters to us now. We are, in part, non-rational beings, argues Lawless, confined in a society that is dominated by the linear discourses of science and technology. Poetry speaks to us in a language close to the way we really operate, and we ignore it at our peril. From Pasternak to Patrick Kavanagh, he opens a treasure chest of metaphor and anecdote, illustrating the liberating effect of the poet’s “interpretive act”. The best of poetry has no agenda, and offers an avenue of resistance to society’s push to conform. Reading poetry, Lawless admirably concludes, is a holistic act of self-preservation in a disjointed world.’
Katie Donovan, poet.
‘Clearing The Tangled Wood is as much a masterwork of poetic imagination as of scholarly precision.’
Ronald M. Mazur, Professor of European Languages and Linguistics, Winona State University.
Short Story: Lovers Who Wound Blame it on the Storm (2010), winner of the WOW Award for fiction.
‘In the short story category the WOW1 award goes to James Lawless’ story Lovers Who Wound Blame it on the Storm. It shows how a talented writer can take the framework of an erotic love fixation and turn it into art by infusing it with a bone fide sense of character, motive and atmosphere’
Adjudication on the WOW Award, 2010
Novel: The Avenue (2010)
‘James Lawless has a mighty thoughtful and penetrating capacity to make you gasp and rage and then burst out laughing: wheels within wheels, circles within circles, this book is very good.’
Jennifer Johnston, writer.
‘A work of passion and truth, which captures a moment of painful transition in the national story. If a multicultural England has drawn a map of itself in Brick Lane, so has a postmodern Ireland traced its past and present in The Avenue. James Lawless has revealed with indignation and art, yet another Hidden Ireland beyond the imaginings of our ancestors.’
‘As much a critique of social ills and suburban decay as a tale of community angst in the areas left behind by the boom, this is a powerful, emotive work from Dublin-born author James Lawless, who has been short listed for a Hennessy and WOW award this year. With a seamless narrative and engaging, pacy plot, this book comes recommended.’
Julian Fleming, Sunday Business Post.
‘The Avenue is a very well written and well-produced novel, steering clear of both misery memoir and nostalgic glorification and the narrator Franky has an utterly credible voice. It was pretty page-turning and struck me as a much better portrayal of Irish life in transition from traditional to modern than many a more self-consciously reminiscent tale.
If you want to see the world your Irish contemporaries are coming from, you really could do a lot worse than The Avenue. I’d be inclined to take it over many a celebrated bestseller.’
Roslyn Fuller, Metro Éireann.
Novel: Finding Penelope (2012)
‘Lawless reinvented the millennia-worn line to reveal not only a Dublin expat Costa del Sol akin to the RTE Love Hate series but beautiful writing, which in Carlo Gébler’s words ”will give deep literary pleasure.”’
Caitriona MacKiernan, Books Ireland.
‘It is here off-piste and burrowed into Penelope’s mind, that we observe him in his quest to understand the mindset of 70 per cent of the fiction-reading market…It is all very readable, cruising along in sprightly, buoyant chapters. Lawless (an award-winning short story writer and poet) has a classy turn of phrase and can whisk up ambience at will.’
‘I thought Finding Penelope was brilliant. I loved the heroine, Penelope Eames, a modestly successful romantic writer who is a sort of everywoman of our times and a wonderful mix of insight, diffidence and foolishness. I also relished the milieu in which Finding Penelope is set, the expatriate Anglophone world of the Spanish Mediterranean, where lonely English widows and gangsters and Irish novelists and aspiring starlets all get jumbled up together and make a fine old mess of their lives in the process.
Finally (but perhaps most importantly) there was the writing – the organization and deployment of words: I haven’t read a book so carefully and so scrupulously written in a very long time. If literature is, as is rumoured, getting slapdash and careless, then this is the antidote to that charge: every single element in this book, right down to the full stops, was placed exactly where the writer wanted it, and placed there with care and intelligence. This is a really well made artefact and therefore, for putative readers, a novel that will give deep literary pleasure.’
Carlo Gébler, writer.
Poetry Collection: Rus in Urbe (2012)
‘In this poetry collection, Rus in Urbe, James Lawless explores the world about him
in its ruralscape and its cityscape. Sometimes his vivid glimpses are presented in English and other times in Irish. This ease with both languages enriches the collection. In The Other Half / An Leath Eile
– I hear you adding /in the old language
… Éistim leat ag comhaireamh / sa tsean teanga ..
the words lead the reader to the magic of the line
– the soft light,
…‘le gile séimh trathnóna.
The poems offer a welcome access into the many layers of meaning, music and magic. This duality gives the immediacy and sparseness of English on one page and the melody and rhythm of Irish on the opposite page. There is a wealth of imagery in the poems. In Parisian Vignettes
– ageing lines on his face,/ charting the route of his life.
contrasts with …
–The young on skateboards parry the wind/ surfing the city’s waves.
There are echoes of Yeats here. James Lawless presents brief and immediate looks at everyday life and transforms them into a vivid memory, with undercurrents of tension so aptly captured in – How can I say/ I will stay /or I will go?
The frequent presence of birds is a symbol of the movements between the rural and urban settings.
Rus in Urbe is a poetry collection that is strong in craftsmanship, sparse in words and rich in layers of meanings.
Ann Egan, poet.
‘Full of lyric grace and persuasive music.’
Pat Boran, poet.
‘This collection is very much of our time as the suburban sprawl spreads further into the Irish countryside. Lawless considers the rural and urban and where the two intersect. Although he divides the poems into rus and in urbe, the intrusion of one poem upon the other and the interaction between rural and urban cannot be ignored. They are in the main serious poems which are layered with meaning and which take their rhythm not just from speech but from music too.’
‘Lawless has a lyric gift.’
Colin Ryan, The Australian Journal of Irish Studies.
‘The title Rus in Urbe is Latin and translates as ‘country in the city’ (rustic in urban) and is used to describe city parks such as New York’s Central Park. Lawless uses this phrase to divide his collection into two parts ‘Rus’ and ‘In Urbe’, and these forty plus poems maybe reflect his own life in Dublin/ the city and in the more rural West Cork and Co. Kildare.
In Part One: Rus, the country section, the poems are about nature and its surroundings; rocks, foliage, walking observations and weather signs. ‘Carrying Forward’ is a lovely poem, about recognition of our parents’ physical traits in ourselves. It opens in a visually quite beautiful way, “The hairs of my fingers/ are caught by the sun/ like some spidery creatures”. Observations in the garden are captured in ‘Changing Forms’, in particular a butterfly; “it pirouetted and tantalised,/ wings fluttering like eyelashes/ on a regal mistress”. The imagery is very attractive and almost seductive.
The great title of ‘The Bachelor Who Drank Poitín’ is a sad poem of a life in solitude and tells of a discovery after “they beat back the briars”, to find a corpse and the bottles, “They pushed in the door,/ inhaled the putrefied air;/ they called again”. A visual feast of memory is described in ‘Old Trains’, as the speaker hears the train and recalls, “my aunt, her bag laden with/ Crunchies, comics and stories/ to intoxicate myth-starved minds;”. But the modern train passing is a disappointment without the noise of the door banging or the steam, “just a flutter of breeze”.
Part Two: In Urbe opens with ‘Ascending a Liberties Staircase in 1952’. The scene is described in its sparseness; the black banister, the bin chute and the concrete. A mother struggles up with a child and a baby in a pram, “I helped my mother tilt and lift;/ I could hear her heavy breathing,/ each slow tortuous step its own individual,”. Winner of a poetry competition, ‘The Miracle of the Rain’ is an emotive journey of two on the Santiago Pilgrim’s Route- one a bare-footed believer and her companion a booted sceptic; “It’s a matter of faith, she says,/ You must believe things to be true/ or the world is just a place of pain.” Her pain is a hidden one, only revealing itself on their arrival as she kneels in the Cathedral, “and copious tears flow out of her eyes”. The speaker realises, “I see the skeleton of her hand./ Pray to Santiago, she says,/that he may cure me.” The poem is affecting and one I re-read in order to again experience its full power.
‘Parisian Vignettes’ is just that, short scenes or impressions of Paris. The liking of a fur-coated woman walking her poodle to a Degas painting is very effective and “in a distant café: a half heard love song”. But this is not a poem romanticising Paris. In Pigalle, the red-light district, “…a drugged girl,/ wavering in the middle of the street,/ remonstrates with captive motorists” and in the smart vestibule of a hotel in Porte D’Orleans a groomed dog waits, “the route on the pavement/ marked by his shit.”
James Lawless has put together a very good collection of poetry here, encompassing many emotions and environments. Some are short and snappy but still deserve as much consideration and contemplation for their message as the longer poems. The division of two parts puts the reader into a particular mindset to receive the rural poem or the more gritty urban poetry.
Novel: Knowing Women (2013)
‘The central concern of Knowing Women is the nature of sexuality in modern Ireland, what sex does to people, how it is exploited, sold and bartered, the natural human propensity, how it’s twisted and warped by society, how it is used to conceal inadequacies in ourselves, how we categorise and slam the slightest peccadillo in a new Puritanism, propelled along as we are by the steady flow of paedophile cases. But are we losing something along the way? This is perhaps the fundamental question the novel asks. Are we flushing out the innocent baby with the dirty bath water? Look at the rise in male suicide; has it something to do with what society has done to gender roles? Males are afraid to embrace or touch one another anymore for fear of the gay tag, the slightest thing untoward provokes unease; mockery and condemnation are the safest response (funny that word ‘untoward’ crops up a lot in the novel); it becomes a branding, a person becomes tainted once rumour takes hold (damned anyway innocent or guilty, as the solicitor informs Benbo). The consequences of such behaviour prevents the emotional unfolding of people to each other, isolates the sexes from each other (consider how Miss U Ryan and her coterie square up to Benbo), all to the jeopardy of society, lengthening the tunnel of individual loneliness. The only safe way to live is as a stone; we are the victims of our own judgmental natures; we are afraid of our own vulnerability. That’s what I wanted to do with Benbo, to show his vulnerability. How easy it is to taint someone. What is the new man’s role? We need to get back, not necessarily to the demonstrative openness of Elizabethan ways, but to a stage at least where we can cast off the shackles of pseudo-convention, to be able to embrace and touch one another without being branded or nametagged, which is really only a form of exercising our own fear in the guise of cutting and superficial gender-based retorts. We’re the losers, all of us, male and female, in the long run…’
From the author’s Preface.
‘James Lawless has created a character that could be any middle-aged lonely man or woman in any city in any country. The loneliness of Benbo is almost palatable. His voyeuristic view of life is both amusing and disturbing. This is the story of a man who is desperate for a connection with someone, anyone but also afraid to allow that connection to be made. The book is a testament to the idea of being alone even thought you are surround by and are interacting with others.
The story is one that is old as time but with a new twist that keeps you turning the page to find out when it will all go wrong and when it does how will Benbo react. You are not disappointed as the story moves along at a good clip to reach a climax that is not quite what you would expect. All in all it is a fine read, I highly recommend it for a rainy day.’
Anita Kearney, Goodreads review.
‘Lawless is an award winning writer who has produced works of fiction, poetry and literary study. This is his fifth novel…His previous novels met the approval of the likes of Jennifer Johnston, Gabriel Byrne and Carlo Gébler so the reader can expect much of this one. It is a story of tangled family relationships, intrigue and blackmail. Mild mannered Lar Benbo is shy of women and lonely since the breakup with his only ever girlfriend Deborah, but he meets the lapdancer, Jadwiga, with whom he begins a tenuous relationship. That relationship is strengthened when he wins the lottery and can buy her gifts, but his brother and his wife are anxious to get their hands on the money before he squanders it on Jadwiga. They attempt to blackmail Lar with accusations that he molested their daughter. However his reaction is not what they expected and the approaching storm in the skies overhead prefigures the storm that is about to break on their lives.’
‘I was already impressed with James Lawless’s earlier novels.
This one is my favourite to date – descriptive, emotional, eventful, loving. I can’t praise this one enough. The author has this innate ability to tap into the human spirit, showing that each character is far more than just flesh and bone. There is something about Laurence Benbo I really liked, probably because I could associate with him myself. Lawless is rapidly becoming one of my favourite novelists.’
Orchardstudio, Amazon review.
‘A very thought-provoking story that leaves you asking yourself, What if? A reminder of how devastating loneliness can be… Lawless does an amazing job bringing the reader inside the world of the characters…The story really is Epic!! I can honestly say I’ve become a fan of Mr. Lawless, and I look forward to reading his next work.’
David Clarke, Goodreads review.
Surgical Dissection of a Dublin Bachelor
Laurence J Benbo represents a demographic which perhaps doesn’t get its fair share of literary attention; the late-30s Southside Dublin bachelor, tied down solely by their profession and exiled from most friends and family by not having a wife and child of their own. When he clocks off from his job at Print 21 and totters home to his North Circular Road flat, all Laurence has to occupy himself is smut, the last addiction that he can exercise in private as he approaches middle-age.
His wandering eyes happen upon the comely Belarusian dimensions of Jadwiga in a park during his lunch break. He’s awkward with women, especially since his relationship with Deborah ended, so he stalks the younger Jadwiga around the city salaciously, to her strip club workplace and finally her front door, which she unexpectedly opens for him.
Soon afterwards, Laurence wins €100,000 on a scratch card but so vacuous is his existence that overpriced gifts for Jadwiga are all he can think of to spend on.
His life gets severely more interesting when news of his windfall reaches Maoiliosa and Ena, his younger, more masculine brother and poisonous sister-in-law. From their Malahide home overlooking their moored yacht, the couple concoct a plan to blackmail the money from Laurence by framing him for interfering with their young daughter Lydia.
The title of James Lawless’s latest is a clue to the turbulent thought patterns that swerve around Laurence’s ever-pondering mind where the opposite sex is concerned. He’s rather paranoid and tends to live in a state of heightened anxiety and awareness of women, both in what they might take from him or provide carnally for him. His fading mother is losing her faculties in the nursing home, dropping obscure bites of information between catatonic lulls. He has a suspicion of both the coke-guzzling Ena and his mentally abusive co-worker Miss U Ryan, and for good reason.
A sad encounter with his ex Deborah, the only woman who loved him, verges on traumatic. The final straw is Jadwiga, however, who upends his world when he spies her consorting with Maoiliosa in her club.
Lawless’s antihero is a tragic template, a less fatalistic version of the character of Brandan in Steve McQueen‘s Shame, or a more sober, contemplative rewriting of someone from the pages of Chuck Palahniuk. On the face of it, Laurence has little to feel that hard-done-by about his lot (these are first-world problems) but he is really only living a half-life, one of anonymity and aimlessness where he is forced by social norms to sneakily treat his solitude through magazines and websites. But when it transpires that one-time golden child Maoiliosa, in whose shadow Laurence dwelled for most of his youth, is arguably more dysfunctional, Lawless gets to the crux of his argument – what is normal, and who are society’s real deviants? Perhaps we have no right to judge the Laurences of this world.
Self-published, prolific and possessed of a lively, fleet-footed style that brims with intellect and poeticism (he has a study of modern poetry, 2009′s Clearing the Tangled Wood, to his name), Lawless is an author who we should perhaps start taking more seriously.
As in last year’s Finding Penelope, he portrays a protagonist with a breadth that is effortlessly involving, dismantling “a nobody” and presenting them as “a somebody”. Admittedly, this often involves speaking through Laurence in lurid, pulpy tones but his ability to treat the ultra-ordinary with a surgeon’s forceps is quite impressive.
Hilary A White, Sunday Independent, 24/11/13
October 2014 Shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.