A Missed Review of Finding Penelope


What a great novel! This is a fantastic story where two very different ways of life meet up. Penelope is from Ireland where her father is the dominant figure in the home and has a brother hooked on drugs but it is a life she is less than content with despite any family bond that remains. At 33 years of age she decides to ship out and move to Spain and in particular the Costa holiday region, a world apart from her former life.Following the meeting of Ramon, a school teacher, she feels her life is heading in the right direction and her decision to leave the family behind in Ireland is justified to fulfill her own desires and enjoyment of life.Alas there are some complications that arise thanks to her brother who deals with Charlie Eliot, a dealer and pimp. Add to the mix that Ramon’s mother’s life was taken by a drug addict and his view on the situation urges him to dissuade Penelope of any intervention. Penelope is caught in a personal loyalty battle of lover or brother?Author James Lawless has done an excellent job of creating a great blend of emotions that come from opposing viewpoints with a number of characters. Ramon wanting to protect the interests of Penelope and Penelope feels that she really needs to come to the aid of Dermot, her brother.A well-crafted novel with a good story line and if you are looking for some steady and fairly easy but enjoyable reading then have a look at Finding Penelope.

Maude Z Waller  Businessdailyreview.com  2013/5/12





On Light and Carbon

Noel Duffy

Ward Wood Publishing



When Kurt Vonnegut posed the question: can a respectable writer claim to know how a refrigerator works, he was echoing a myth of a polarised division between science and art, disproved by scientist/writers such as Holub, Chekhov, McGovern and now Noel Duffy. A counter charge to Vonnegut of course was when Plato banished the poets from his ideal republic on the grounds that they were irrational or even effeminate

How we see the world surely is enriched by adding to our poetic vocabulary from the lexicon of science and the different perceptions that science brings through its microscope: the blending of the proofs, the certainty with the uncertainties of life captured in art, comprising in what Bacherlard called his theory of Approximates, citing science’s inability to reduce the mathematical symbol π to a whole number. To admit the incompleteness of knowledge is a sign, not of failure, but of objectivity. By relating the rational to the nonrational, in other words by combining science and poetry, and having an openness of approach, we can widen our conception of reality.

Noel Duffy is  a Dubliner whose first collection, the wonderfully titled In the Library of Lost Objects was shortlisted for the Strong Award. He is  published by Ward Wood, a small English press who produce quality work in prose and poetry by Irish writers as well as British. Duffy studied physics in Trinity College but found the research not completely satisfying, reminiscent of Walt Whitman who, on hearing the astronomer lecturing ‘with much applause in the lecture room/How soon unaccountable, I became tired and sick… and wandered off by myself/ in the mystical moist-air… and from time to time/Looked up in perfect silence at the stars’.

Duffy claims his artistic purpose is ‘to try to show the deepest aspect of our humanity and curiosity against the canvas and backdrop that science has provided us with’.

In his new collection On Light and Carbon he keeps faithful to his purpose. In the first poem Footprints on Lava he tries to trace the first man ‘carbon-dated to a time before memory’, something most of us at some stage wonder about—our first ancestors, our provenance and our ultimate destination. He seeks the ’tissue of order’ (Kinsella), the harmony where art and science concur as in Harmonic Resonance where ‘the pendulums swung in elegant unison/a single pure note witnessed, though silent’.

Sometimes he sees the world from a  distance, looking on the earth like an astronaut from the lunar surface, such distancing affording us a glimpse of the earth’s beauty, blind to the carveup, seeing the world anew and ‘porcelain cold’ (cf Kafka’s ice).

In Earthrise he proclaims his poetic calling: ‘the sea of me rising, aching to share/ the mystery of/ that vision’. He admits his vocation involves a form of loneliness, reminding one of Kavanagh. ‘I hadn’t expected an isolation so great’, he exclaims, recognising the necessity of the poet to cultivate solitude, the sacrifice made for artistic endeavour.

In Hide and Seek we see the poet in the making: ‘I watched/ the wood-lice at my feet/ make small patterns in the dirt.’ Out of such things, like Yeats’ ‘foul rag and bone shop of the heart’, are poems conceived.

In On Light on Carbon, the title poem, he poses the childlike question: ‘where did it come from the tree?’ ‘It came from the ground, the teacher said.’ How simple yet profound the question and the response. The childpoet is here transfixed by the world— ‘I was spellbound’. The experience reminds one of a Pasternak rapture or of Ó Direáin in his assertion that poems are recollections of childhood. It shows Duffy has a wide palette, and in The Faith Healer we witness the magic and innocence of childhood marred by adult reality.

Some of the poems are not as successful as others. A Painting and The Seeing are more anecdotal and prosaic than poetic. Classical Mechanics is a story poem joining art and science through the architecture of a university; and the brief encounter in Trinity Ball fritters away into vagueness as it does in Keepsake, a better poem, but where the amorous hope again is doomed by its own ephemerality.

Such ephemerality, however, is more than made up for in Two Coins where the husband’s love for his wife is so strong and enduring that he is prepared to give up ‘the treasure of centuries’— his cherished coin collection, to purchase a necklace for her. Also in Return the poet successfully uses the Biblical motif of Lot’s wife to recount the ups and downs of contemporary relationships, and in Old Shoes the end of an affair is beautifully captured by the symbolism of old shoes.

There’s a touch of the desert mystic in Duffy. In Encounter ‘I sat cross-legged… to contemplate silence,’ where ‘I had cast off my body and my thoughts /time retreating to stillness’. It represents a meditative preparation, à la Wordsworth, for poetic receptivity. He emerges with some of his finest poetry:


There was a sense of something

huge and present, like a great, dark star

above which I hovered, irradiating

a force so wide and deep that

it encompassed everything

that is.

James Lawless

published in the new Books Ireland, March/April 2014. Issue no. 354



Author: James Lawless

Irish novelist, poet and short story writer.

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