Top critical review
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on 13 June 2008
I was very much looking forward to getting an Irish perspective of the country during "The Emergency". I was disappointed therefore to find little in the way of history and found myself reading instead what transpired to be a handbook of WW2 Irish literary criticism. As Clair Wills is a professor of literature by trade, I suppose I should have been more prepared for what amounts to a rather narrow window on the WW2 Irish experience. It is a common mistake among devotees of the arts to give too much credence to fictional works as sources of historical fact and Wills has fallen into this trap. I found myself skipping page after page of quoted passages of frankly unreadable sub standard period literature which served only to blow out of all proportion the importance both then and now of some very minor literary figures. The case of Elizabeth Bowen is a good example of this - Bowen is hardly a household name and yet Wills refers to her work frequently and also swallows hook line and sinker Bowen's own propaganda regarding her "war work" which was in fact very inconsequential and certainly didn't merit the "intelligence gathering" tag. By contrast the Luftwaffe bombing of Dublin and the effect this must have had on the populace is given comparitively scant coverage - hardly a cultural history then but more a period history of Wills' own preferred subject, namely Irish Literature. This is a real shame because if one sifts out the overblown literary passages, there are some very useful and interesting pieces of information and facts as well as all too little coverage on the media of the time which was certainly worthy of further exploration. A more solid basis of Irish popular opinion, other than those quoted by Wills' favourite writes, would have been of interest too.
In short this was a wasted opportunity to deliver what could have been a definitive work on one of the most fascinating periods of Irish history. A more honest title might have been "How the Emergency Affected the Works of Elizabeth Bowen and other 1940s Irish Writers". But then that might not have sold as well.