Book Review: ‘American Doll’ by James Lawless
Read a few page of this novel and it becomes quite apparent that the author, James Lawless, is an Irish novelist. His first novel, PEELING ORANGES, was originally published in 2007, and the quality was so fine that it spawned five more novels as well as short stories, children’s stories and poetry. AMERICAN DOLL is his current novel. He was born in the Liberties of Dublin, is an arts graduate (reading Irish and Spanish) of University College Dublin and has an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from Dublin City University. According to his bio ‘he taught in a secondary school and lectured for a number of years and volunteered for a time in the Simon community which informed the social concerns in some of his work. Lawless divides his time now between County Kildare and West Cork.’ His much-lauded books have been translated into several languages
The magic ingredient of all of James’ books is his radiant singing style of prose. He is able to create a spectrum of atmosphere in a few paragraphs, such as the opening of this novel: ‘He first met her in late May at a talk on W. B. Yeats given by Professor Foster in the National Library in Dublin. He knew she was American the moment he saw her, before he even heard her speak. She had that all American healthy complexion of piano ivory sparkling teeth and bright smiling brown eyes. And the way she was so open was American too, he figured, as she made for a vacant seat, talking to everyone around her in a voice a little too loud for Irish decorum. She was pushing her auburn fringe back saying, ‘My bangs are in my eyes’, like someone who wanted to share the world. ‘Imagine, accounts of my ancestors are stored here. Oh my god, and those green shades like one of the forty shades when I was looking down from the Aer Lingus plane. It was so exciting.’ ‘Why didn’t you fly Panam?’ another woman, American also judging by the accent, asked her. ‘My dad insisted on the friendly Irish airline.’ Sitting down beside him she said smiling, ‘I just adore Yeats.’ ‘He has his moments,’ he said. ‘Laura Calane.’ ‘Danny Faraday.’ ‘You’ve very long arms,’ she said. He looked at his sleeves; he could never get a shirt with sleeves long enough to cover his wrists, but she obviously meant it as a compliment. After the lecture when he told her he sometimes wrote poetry, she latched onto, ‘You’re a poet.’ ‘More a poetaster.’
The story takes on a serious tone as the summary suggests: ‘When Laura Calane of New York comes to Ireland to further her studies and to live in what her father considers a safer environment after 9/11, she discovers that the land of her ancestors is not the haven she had believed it to be. When she meets social worker Danny Faraday, she is torn between her attraction towards him and the emotional blackmail of her uncle Thady who is domiciled in Ireland and who never lets her forget that he saved her father’s life in a terrorist attack in New York.’
Few authors today can consistently create novels of such breadth – infusing the spirit of Irish charm into the events of now – a marriage of intrigue and romance that is polished and a joy to read.
Grady Harp, San Francisco Review of Books, 8/2/2018.