Notes from a Coma

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A Year in Reading: Kevin Barry

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I gurgled and frothed with sheer animal pleasure all the way through My Lunches with Orson (Metropolitan Books), a transcript of taped conversations between Orson Welles and his friend Henry Jaglom, made over elaborate lunches, in Los Angeles, in the early 1980s, and in which the great director gossiped with magnificent bitchiness about the stars he had known, and wedded, and bedded, and elaborated on the fineries of his craft, and gave masterclasses in story and structure, and talked about poodles, sauces, politics, and poems, and much else besides, and in fact gave the final, incontrovertible evidence that his was one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century. And also one of the funniest. A lesser-known fact: Orson made his breakthrough in Ireland, as a handsome corn-fed teen, in the early 1930s, when he acted for the legendary Michael Mac Liammoir’s company at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and he confesses in this book that he went on to nourish a life-long hatred of the Irish people, most especially Irish-Americans. Choice anecdote: one day, during a break in rehearsals, Orson asked Michael to give the defining characteristic, in a single word, without thinking too hard about it, of the Irish race, and Michael immediately responded with “malice.” I defy anyone not to read this wonderful book in a sitting.

Speaking of Ireland, the novel Notes from a Coma by Mike McCormack has stealthily been developing a cult reputation there since its initial publication in 2005, and this year it finally got an American release through the good offices of Soho Press. This is the near-future story of JJ O’Malley, a kid adopted from a Romanian orphanage who grows up in the west of Ireland and there submits to trials on an experimental prison ship in Killary harbor, aboard which the inmates are induced into coma states to cut down on costs. McCormack is the bastard love-child of John McGahern and JG Ballard, and this is a brilliant book.

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