Ralf Haekel on John Banville, The Sea

Ralf Haekel (Leipzig University)

The Sea is John Banville’s best-known and most popular book. Its key themes are, like in many of Banville’s other works, the topics of loss and identity. Since the publication of his first work of fiction in 1970, Banville has always tested the boundaries of contemporary fiction, developing an idiosyncratic and highly reflexive style. The Sea, the novel that won the Booker Prize in 2005, is a book on memory, life, and death or, to be more precise, on dying. It is one of the great Irish novels of the 21st century because it reflects the tradition of Irish fiction and at the same time questions the very possibility of storytelling in the face of death. In my lecture, I focus particularly on Banville’s use of photography in the novel. The Sea refers to photography thematically as well as structurally, and the photographic image operates as memento mori, as a sign of mortality, and, through the technique of ekphrasis, as a narrative medium of memory.

University of Wuppertal, 22 April 2021, 14-16

University of Tübingen, 5 May 2021, 10-12

Christoph Reinfandt on Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture

Christoph Reinfandt (University of Tübingen)

Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture (2008)

Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture showcases the experiential dimension of twentieth-century Irish history in exemplary fashion. In setting the secret private ruminations of its female heroine against the attempts of her psychiatrist to piece together her life and her personality from the official record, the novel asks uncomfortable questions about power, gender, reliability and truth. In The Secret Scripture, the reflexivity of historiographic metafiction joins forces with the power of Irish storytelling traditions.


TU Dortmund, 15 June 2021, 18-19:30

University of Würzburg, 22 June 2021, 12-14

Elke D’hoker on Sara Baume, A Line Made by Walking

Elke D’hoker (KU Leuven)

‘A creature other than myself’: Art, Nature, Ethics in Sara Baume’s A Line Made by Walking (2017)

Although less lauded than her debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Sara Baume’s A Line Made by Walking doubtlessly qualifies as one of the great Irish Novels of the 21st century for the way it revisits literary traditions in a highly original way. In this lecture, I will consider the book as a Bildungsroman in which the protagonist finds herself through a consideration of others; as a form of autofiction, complete with photographs, in the tradition of W.G. Sebald; as a revision of the Irish rural tradition in an age of climate change; and as a contemporary – and subtly feminist – inquiry into the tricky relation between ethics and aesthetics.


Bard College Berlin, 5 May 2021, 19-21

University of Würzburg, 6 May 2021, 10-12

Catherine Toal on Anna Burns, Milkman

Catherine Toal (Bard College Berlin)

Unnameable: Milkman and The Troubles

When it appeared in 2018, Milkman by Anna Burns produced a shock of recognition, despite its anonymized setting. Through its abstraction, the novel lays bare the tragedy and absurdity of the most deadlocked point in a conflict that permeated every aspect of life. This lecture links Milkman to the history and nature of The Troubles (1968-1998) and to traditions of experiment in Northern Irish literature, locating its unique place in the Irish literature of recent decades.


Leipzig University, 19 May 2021, 11-13

University of Siegen, 27 May 2021, 10-12

University of Wuppertal, 10 June 2021, 14-16

Claire Lynch on Helen Cullen, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually

Claire Lynch (Brunel University London)

The ‘art of precious scars’: Making, Breaking, and Repairing the Irish Family in Helen Cullen’s The Dazzling Truth (2020)

Cullen’s The Dazzling Truth (2020) uproots many of the central themes of contemporary Irish writing as it gradually reveals the many ‘truths’ that the story stands upon. It is a novel of landscape and location, memory and quiet revelation, asking us to think again about the ways families are made and held together. This lecture will take as its starting point the professions of the two central characters, Maeve, an actor, and Murtagh, a potter, to explore the novels key ideas. How does Maeve cope when cast in the role of mother? What does Murtagh do to fix the cracks that appear in his family?

University of Wuppertal, 29 April 2021, 14-16

University of Siegen, 18 May 2021, 10-12


Marisol Morales-Ladrón on Emma Donoghue, The Pull of the Stars

Marisol Morales-Ladrón (University of Alcalá, Madrid)

Living in Pandemic Times: Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars and the Current State of Affairs

Emma Donoghue’s most recent novel, The Pull of the Stars (2020), was timely published last July, when COVID-19 had already spread worldwide. Her narrative, set in a Dublin ward in 1919, dealt with the effects of last century’s Great Flu pandemic, which took the lives of millions of people, while she focused on how the influenza affected pregnant women and the working-class in larger scales. She does so in such a way that the novel looks contemporary to us. Considering the current times we are going through and the urgency of such issue, the purpose of this talk will be to explore Donoghue’s historical novel in light of a cultural memory approach, to suggest that the construction of the past needs to be constantly revisited as our present is primarily informed by it.


Bard College Berlin, 27 April 2021, 19-21

University of Mannheim, 15 June 2021, 12-13:30

Margaret Kelleher on Anne Enright, The Green Road

Margaret Kelleher (University College Dublin)

“I am sorry. I cannot invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad.”

My lecture will focus on Anne Enright’s The Green Road (2015). It will explore the relationship of place and character in a novel whose locations include New York, Mali, Toronto, suburban Dublin and the Atlantic coast. It will also examine the novel’s deployment and subversion of traditional depictions of the Irish family, motherhood and sibling relations.


TU Dortmund, 4 May 2021, 18-19:30

University of Tübingen, 12 May 2021, 10-12

Sylvie Mikowski on Paul Lynch, Grace

Sylvie Mikowski (University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne)

This lecture will start with a discussion of Paul Lynch’s novel Grace as a famine novel and of the ways in which the famine is represented historically, but also emotionally. It questions the limits of language and fiction in representing history, trauma and affects and discusses the specificity of Grace, comparing it with other famine novels, such as Liam O’Flaherty’s Famine and Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea. Grace, it is argued, manages to evade the nationalist versus revisionist debate and constitutes, at an aesthetic level, the same type of middle-ground as the one achieved by the “post revisionist” historians, situated half-way between the mythologizing of the first interpreters of the Famine and the revisionists’ controversial attempts at writing “value-free” narratives of the tragedy. Drawing on Marianne Hirsch’s concept of post-memory, I posit that Lynch’s novel offers the reader a renewed mode of understanding the reality of the past, and in particular, of the horrifying historical events that resist representation – in this case, the Great Famine.

University of Mannheim, 10 June 2021, 10-12

Leuphana University Lüneburg, 21 June 2021, 14-16

Ina Bergmann on Colum McCann, TransAtlantic

Ina Bergmann (University of Würzburg)

The Green Atlantic Revis(it)ed: Colum McCann's TransAtlantic (2013) as New Irish American Historical Fiction

Colum McCann's TransAtlantic (2013) delivers exactly what readers would expect from its title. The novel features transatlantic crossings and settings on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, from Canada and the United States of America to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But besides its broad geographical scope, TransAtlantic also covers a large time frame. The novel tells the history of the Green Atlantic from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century by focusing on Frederick Douglass's visit to Ireland during the Great Famine in 1845/46, John Alcock and Arthur Brown's first nonstop transatlantic flight in 1919, and George Mitchell's negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Yet, McCann intricately combines this 'maps and chaps' version of history with 'herstory' by adding a fictional, Irish American, and matrilineal storyline, which brings the seemingly disparate strands together. McCann's novel revisits and revises official historiography and is therefore an instance of the new Irish American historical fiction.


University of Wuppertal, 8 July 2021, 14-16

Derek Hand on Mike McCormack, Solar Bones

Derek Hand (Dublin City University)

Solar Bones: The Contemporary Irish Novel and the Anxieties of the Age

Formally, Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones (2016) is simply one long sentence, a deceptively simple challenge to traditional structural expectations. Marcus Conway’s narrative, told with the rhythm of a heartbeat, narrates a story about his various roles as husband, son, father, and lover, as well as his relationship to the Celtic Tiger Boom. This talk will explore the relevancy of the novel to our understanding of the Celtic Tiger moment and the gains and losses that wealth produced, and the consequent cultural shifts that it brought about. This talk will explore the themes of memory and haunting and consider too what it might tell us of the status of literary art in contemporary Ireland.

University of Wuppertal, 11 May  2021, 18-20

University of Tübingen, 2 June 2021, 10-12

Saarland University, 8 June 2021, 14-16

Loredana Salis on Mary Morrissy, The Rising of Bella Casey

Loredana Salis (University of Sassari)

Great Irish Novels of the 21st Century: The Rising of Bella Casey by Mary Morrissy

Mary Morrissy’s The Rising of Bella Casey is a historical novel written and published in 2013 but set about a hundred years earlier, when Ireland was preparing to wage war against the British Empire and proclaim its independence. The story opens on Easter Monday, day 1 of the 1916 Insurrection (chapter I) and it ends on New Year’s Day, in 1918, the day when Bella Beaver (née Isabella O’Casey) dies a victim to the Spanish Flu (chapter 24). The linearity and ciclicity of the timeline are disrupted almost immediately on the page as images of the past and of the narrative future break its flow to reveal Bella’s thoughts and troubled life story. Morrissy adopts a literary subgenre that allows her to reconstruct the untold story of her protagonist against the backdrop of Ireland’s contested History at the time of its foundation, in 1916, as a nation free of its colonial yoke. That was also the time of WWI and of the terrible pandemic that caused more deaths than the conflict itself. Bella’s rising (out of violence, from oblivion, against patriarchal silence) is recounted vis à vis a country and its people’s rising from a contested and traumatic past, from defective memory, partial recollections, violent omissions and oblivion. Today, our reading of it sheds light on the place of memory and on our place in remembering, forgetting and forgiving the past.

This talk focuses on Morrissy’s engagement with individual and collective memory, between fact and fiction, and explores the value of creative writing in relation to agency, with the benefit of hindsight.


TU Dortmund, 13 July 2021, 18-19:30

University of Siegen, 13 July 2021, 10-12

Stefanie Lehner on David Park, The Truth Commissioner

Stefanie Lehner (Queen’s University Belfast)

Post-conflict Masculinities and Absent Presences in David Park’s The Truth Commissioner (2008)

Published ten years after the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, David Park’s The Truth Commissioner (2008) imagines a fictive truth and reconciliation process, similar to that in South Africa, taking place in Northern Ireland through the lives of four men who become intricately linked through a common, yet largely concealed past, revolving around the case of a disappeared 15-year-old. This lecture will suggest that Park’s novel effectively offers us to explore the identity and gender politics underpinning conflict transformation processes, allowing us furthermore to consider the political and moral implications of its paradigm.

University of Tübingen, 9 June 2021, 10-12

Leipzig University, 23 June 2021, 11-13

University of Wuppertal, 24 June 2021, 14-16

Katharina Rennhak on Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends

Katharina Rennhak (University of Wuppertal)

When published in 2017 Conversations with Friends immediately hit a nerve in and beyond Ireland and Sally Rooney was “greeted as the first great millennial author” (E. Barry, New York Times). In this lecture, I will focus on Rooney’s innovative take on questions of identity and social interaction. Reading Conversations with Friends as a genre hybrid between a novel of manners and a Bildungsroman, I will show how Rooney examines the class, age and gender performances of her main characters by differentiating between various forms of linguistic and physical conversation and by probing deeply into the semantics of friendship.

Leuphana University Lüneburg, 17 May 2021, 14-16

University of Mannheim, 1 June 2021, 12:00-13:30

Maria Eisenmann on Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn

Maria Eisenmann (University of Würzburg)

Approaches to Teaching Irish Migration and Hybrid Identity in Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn   

Brooklyn (2009) recounts the story of a young woman who emigrates from Ireland to the United States in the early 1950s. In his novel Colm Tóibín explores themes such as geographical and cultural displacement of the foreign other as well as the dislocation of the subject at home and abroad. This typical experience of emigration creates a complexity of identity, the hybrid and hyphenated identities as well as the difficulty in finding a sense of belonging.

This paper, firstly, aims to address why Irish migration and hybrid identity should be included as a central topic in the EFL classroom and, secondly, explores how Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn can be used effectively and purposefully in the context of intercultural and cross-cultural teaching and learning approaches.


University of Münster, 1 July 2021, 10-12