American Doll

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Review of American Doll
Anne Cunningham Sunday Independent 29/8/16

Danny Faraday meets Laura Calane,an Irish-American postgrad student in Trinity, and their attraction is instant. Laura is beautiful and enigmatic and plays infuriating mindgames. Her father Con dislikes Danny because Danny doesn’t hate Muslims. Con is poisoned with hate. An ex-fireman, he was on duty on 9/11 and lost his wife in the tragedy. His fireman brother Thady saved Con’s life that day and sometime later Thady retired to live in Ireland. Laura visits Thady regularly. And therein lies the problem…
Danny has suffered his own tragedy, losing his parents in a plane crash and still feels vaguely responsible. Laura and Danny commence a relationship fraught with trouble, in which Thady plays his part. If this book hadn’t been published in 2016, with Donald Trump feeding on the bloodlust and paranoia of so many white Americans, one could be forgiven for thinking the plot is a tad far-fetched. But Lawless has his finger on the pulse of post-9/11 America, and his depiction of the bitterness and paranoia within Laura’s family is – in the context of Trump’s rise to prominence – frightening.
Laura is less convincing, alas. She is a fruitcake, while Danny is an even-minded man. A bit haunted maybe, but aren’t we all? Therefore I didn’t hold out much hope for their strange coupling. However, this is an excellent novel by an award-winning writer, highly praised by the likes of Jennifer Johnston.

James Lawless deserves to be more widely read than he is.

Thursday, February 8, 2018
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. 8.2.18

Clearing the Tangled Wood

This monograph is a study of poetry as an alternative way of seeing the world and of obtaining insights into realities that enable the reader to see the vast otherness that usually eludes. The process of creativity is discussed. The influences of other disciplines on the heightening of consciousness are described as well as methodologies of observation that have been employed in the last 100 years are elucidated. Attention is paid to the specific contribution of modern Irish poetry especially in the role of the poet in society. Works of three non English poets (Salinas, Lorca and Pasternak) are appraised in some detail and the role of these three poets in their societies discussed with a view to the vindication of poetic insight and illumination against societal forces that would destroy the poet and his poetry. The final section of the work deals with poetry as an art form uniquely able to interpret a fragmented and arid post modern world.

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Some reviews of Clearing the Tangled Wood

“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

“A linguistic ballet, learned and lively, on behalf of poetry.”
John Montague

“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

“Impressive in its references among other works of criticism, and of opinions and general concepts.”
Thomas Kinsella

“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

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, President of Ireland

‘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.

 “In this wide-ranging book Lawless considers the work of many poets, including W. H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg and Mícheál Ó Siadhail, as he explores the relevance of poetry in ordinary and extraordinary people’s lives. It comes highly recommended.”

from Books Ireland, May 2012

Reviews from Amazon

4.0 out of 5 stars Poetry as you don’t know it.,January 5, 2013
This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

This book is a very informational and may even be considered educational, aimed to show people the different ways poetry can enrich their lives.

The book shows us benefits of poetry in a language aspect, a well as human communication and much more. After reading this book, your view and understanding of poetry will be completely different, I assure you. You will learn a great deal. I have a better understanding and new respect for poetry since reading “Clearing the Tangled Wood.” One interesting chapter talks about poetry in relation to meditation.

You can tell James Lawless did his homework on this book. An amazing amount of research must have been done, I can only imagine the hours put into this. He did a great job, I am very impressed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Clearing the Tangled Wood.” I learned a great deal that I did not know about poetry, though I enjoy books that teach me new things that appeal to me.

I highly recommend this book. If this is your kind of thing, then you will be happy with this book. “Clearing the Tangled Wood” is a real eye opener.

5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary read!,January 2, 2013

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

While I am no authority on poetry, it is clear that in this book we have here a serious study of poetry.
You may ask why should a non-authority on poetry have a say on such a book? If poetry is for the masses, then it could be argued that if it appeals to me, then it should appeal to others.

In an attempt to be partly poetic myself, I would like to say that we live in a world full of machines. Day by day our world is becoming more and more artificial. True human values seem to be diminishing in face of these machines and infrastructures. It could be argued that modern society is obliging us to ignore base human values and become more machine like.

That’s why books like “clearing the tangled wood” act like a precious medicine, reminding us that there is more to contemplate than we normally do. Poetry allows us to look into our hearts, into our very souls, yet it is a medium that is very difficult to comprehend.

I’m sure many will find the study of poetry a most fascinating subject, but equally feel it is difficult to find people to enliven it and make sense of it. For this you need a true creative and insightful mind. I, for one, found it in this book and this author. Even though such studies are supposedly boring stuff, I found this book to be quite easy to digest and take in. It is written in a very readable format. Lawless covers many aspects of poetry and some of the greatest poets are discussed in an interesting writing style.

The book describes admirably the ups and downs of poetry from old age and the role it has played in shaping our societies. As mentioned earlier, in this modern technological era we live in, people need even more than ever poetry. We need poetry to change our visions and how we look into our lives and the lives of others. This book actually helped me realize the importance of poetry and by doing this, at least for a moment, helped this reader see the world in a new light. Anybody interested in poetry should give this book a try.

5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry Is A Way Through The Chaos Of The World,January 1, 2013

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World In a world that is at once contradictory, chaotic and, often, outright confusing, there is one art form that transcends this chaos and, indeed, makes sense of it, poetry. That is the well-written argument of James Lawless, author of “Clearing the Tangled Wood – Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World.” In his monograph, Lawless examines the world against the world of poetry and the result is that poetry is the only way we can see the world clearly through the chaos. This is an insightful work.

While I am a fan of James Lawless’ fictional novels (Peeling Oranges being one of my favourites), I was hesitant about looking at one of his more academic works. Yet I enjoyed his fiction so much that I wanted to dig a little deeper.I believe “Clearing the Tangled Wood” cleared up a number of things for me. Firstly, and probably not the point of the book, that Lawless is a very learned fellow and clearly with a strong love for poetry. Next, like some of the more accomplished writers of fiction I have read, there is much more depth and eruditism that I could at first have imagined to Lawless’s writing.I hope the author will forgive me if parts of this book are lost on me – sorry, I just ain’t that clever. However, even for me, this book goes a long way in showing the importance of poetry. The way the author examines our modern world against it is quite insightful.For anyone with interest in poetry, especially in its context to today, I can imagine this is a very interesting read.Once I Saw Through a Glass Darkly,10 Jan 2013

This review is from: Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World (Paperback)

Clearing the Tangled Wood, by James Lawless, is an educated and elucidate treatment of the importance of poetry and its ability to actually shape the way that we see the world around us.

James Lawless has studied the works of many poets, paying some special attention to modern Irish poets as well as a few non- English speaking poets. He delves into the creative process, the effects of other types of creative writing on poetry and even the methodologies of the poet. It seems to be important to understand the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of poetry and the poetic process in order to grasp the significance of the thesis of this book, which I believe to be that poetry can enable the reader to see the world in a new light. To, if you will, ‘clear the tangled’ undergrowth that might keep us from seeing clearly and open our eyes to truth, beauty, honor, death, sorrow and so much more.

While not an easy read, this book is highly recommended to both the poet and reader of poetry alike. Thank you Mr. Lawless for sharing your insight.