Senator David Norris, The Ormond Hotel and James Joyce

Just had the good fortune to hear Senator David Norris interviewed on the lunch times news (RTE) on the subject of Dublin City Council’s decision to turn down an application to build a new hotel (6 floors) on the site of the Ormond Hotel.

Senator Norris was in top form and brought Ulysses to life for all those listening in.  He explained how Joyce used language to capture music – the first page and a half of this section of Ulysses being a passage to describe an orchestra warming up.  He gave a great account of the Sirens Bar and the temptresses and the weak men.  He even sang a song for us (the first few bars of M’Appari).

Senator Norris is of the view that the Ormond Hotel should be developed as a hotel – but in keeping with the hotel of Joycean times.  He was funny in commenting on football club owners having lots of money and also mentioned his preference that the developer would not be a Russian oligarch.

What an excellent news item.  Hope , like Senator Norris, that a commercially acceptable, Joyce sensitive, way can be found to restore the hotel and bring to life the atmosphere enjoyed by Joyce, his father and various others – including he sirens’ bar.







Of mice and men – John Steinbeck

Finally got to this book – listened to it,via, over the last few days as I resumed my walking schedule.

This story took me back to my boyhood memories of all those westerns – with ranch hands living in bunkhouses.  In this case George and Lenny arrive at the ranch looking for work. Lenny is in the care of George.  Lennie is a giant of a man but would be classified as special needs.

The book deals with a number of subjects: the ranch owner’s son (Curley), who has notions about himself, and his new wife who is ‘giving the eye’ to anyone looking.  There is one African American – he is not allowed to sleep in the same bunkhouse.  And we have various other characters – Candy (the ranch hand at the end of his career) and Slim, the strong silent type who seems to command everyone’s respect.

George has spent several years looking out for Lennie.  Lennie is apt to fall into traps set for him – which tend to result in his getting into trouble because of his sheer size and strength.  The story centres on George’s attempt to safeguard Lennie in this environment.

I did not think this was one of Steinbeck’s better efforts.  I thought the plot was too predicable and lacked for any real sense of tension.  I thought the character developed was quite limited.






Way back when – The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Just finished listening to ‘The Burgess Boys’.  Excellent story of two brother and their sister – I guess calling the book ‘the Burgess brothers and their sister’ was too much hard work.

The book is set in New York and Maine and concerns two brothers living in New York and their sister living in Maine.  The brothers are both lawyers – Jim (the elder)  a successful corporate lawyer, Bob, the other operating at the other end of the scale.  And their sister, Susan (Bob’s twin)  lives with her son Zach in a small town, Shirley Falls,  in Maine, where they all grew up.

Zach gets in trouble and his uncles ‘ride into town’ to sort out the problems.  Well, first Bob arrives and then Jim, as the reinforcement.  In fact Jim seeks to control the process and directs the actions to be taken by both Bob and Susan.

From early on it is apparent that we are going to learn about the siblings background, their early childhoods, their family upbringing, their rivalries and something that happened when they were quite young.  We also see their adult lives, their failed or challenged marriages and how they have managed or struggled to stay in touch as their careers, relocation and their new family lives have separated them.

We have some excellent insights into Jim’s life – married to Helen (who is independently wealthy), a very successful lawyer with many of the trappings of success, but struggling with some of the compromise and required socialising with other partners in the law firm.  The golf trip is nicely juxtapositioned with the breaking crisis for Zach and his mother.  We also see how Jim struggles to readjust when reimmersed in Shirley Falls,.

On the face of it Jim and Helen have an excellent relationship – but there are elements of ‘Gatsby’ about some parts of  their lives.  There appears to be a level of boredom, lack of direction or meaning.  Some of this comes across clearly in descriptions of Helen’s activities – one of the ‘ladies who do lunch’ in New York.

We also see how Bob struggles and we meet his ex-wife and some other friends.  We learn more about Bob in seeing how he inter relates with Jim and Helen, his neighbours, his sister and various other characters.  During the course of the Zach issue Bob meets up with some old friends in Shirley  Falls and generally rebuilds his relationship with his sister.  His relationship with Jim – as the younger, less successful brother, develops as Jim’s world unfolds.

Susan is the mother who is struggling to bring up Zach on her own – and experiences real self-doubt/ guilt when Zach gets in trouble.  She is less worldly-wise – at least on first meeting her – than her brothers and is inclined to imagine the worst and be panicked into action.

The interaction between the two brothers and their sister is intriguing and well-developed throughout the novel by Strout..  And there are a number of surprises for the reader which will hold your attention.  I found the book fascinating as an examination of relationships between siblings – Zach’s issues just provide an opportunity and a reason for more focused interaction between the three of them in later adult life.  In some respects it reminds of situations we all find ourselves in when travelling to a funeral and spending longer together than planned.

As someone with a number of siblings I found the book interesting in that it stimulated some thinking/ reflection re sibling relationships – and how they may develop or be constrained in adult life, as additional people e.g. spouses, become involved in our lives, as people relocate, as careers develop differently, as children arrive.  But Elizabeth Strout, the author, reminds us clearly of the importance of those initial relationships based on childhood and how these can survive many of the challenges over the years.  The underlying message is blood relationships are critical and should last the test of time.

I would have little hesitation in recommending the book to friends.  Good character development and interaction and plenty of material on which to reflect.