Sunday, December 04, 2011

“The Dangerous Islands” (a novel) by Séamas Cain

“The Dangerous Islands” (a novel) by Séamas Cain
The Red Jasper press (
Kit Fryatt, Curator
26D Saint Brigid’s Road Lower, Drumcondra
Dublin 9, Ireland
--review by Tomas O’Leary—

This book by the Irish writer Séamas Cain poses a serious challenge to the intellectual,aesthetic, philosophical, physical, metaphysical and omni-forbearing wherewithal of a humbly attentive Irish-American poet who’s been entrusted with the task of layingout words in more or less cogent rows, by way of a review that might entice the astute and expansive would-be reader to give it a shot, thereby perhaps expanding even further his or her grasp of the endless battle of language to transcend itself and discover on the far side whatever must otherwise remain quite inaccessible to mortal fiddlesticks who demand of narrative at least some comforting hint which allows them to think from time to time that they know where they are in the long run of the story.

Having just read “The Dangerous Islands” and felt its formidable powers of image
and metaphor, of concepts somehow simultaneously both boggling and elucidating,
of characters who waft wraithlike in and out of plotless conditions wherein they are
rendered pensive or foolish or transubstantiated or bludgeoned or flayed, all in the
undeniable service of metaphor, I confess: I still don’t know where I am.

At sea or not, however, I very much admire the author’s tenacity of vision as he drives his rough beast toward its final watering hole, which reads thus:

‘The Lady O’Handrahaun was singing: “I thought of gems, from gems, antimony,
lotus fringed.” Frank urinated, soundless on the needle-pad, since Jane purged
insects and gems from a lion. The Lady O’Handrahaun arose in the misted sun,
the rainbow sun, bore the sun as weight that binds the transposed cosmic spheres.
Lions were painted as if crouched before the entrance of a chapel. They came to
light in the wide-open snarling night, jaws like red granite. Jane exhaled a cloud of antimony on needle-pads. The mountain was quiet, the snake could not move.
Jane gormandized with lions on the snake. A heavy wagon rumbled by red peonies,
and red insects quivered.’ THE END

The book is presented as (a novel) parenthetically. I would say it IS a novel (paren-thetically) – a heroic 240-page conceit of persistence or insistence transcribed from
the (parenthetical) mind of its creator, whose opening 22 pages serve as first-person manifesto which presents a romp of clowns who manifest the psyche in its throes of deliberation, creation, argumentation and all such ations as may kindle in the reader a fire to fathom what in hell is striving to be born here. Here then a handful of phrases snatched with haphazard intentionality from those pages:

‘I seek form and wait the mold, amorphous and unrealized possibilities, fecundity, fruition. Illusion is the precondition of creativity.’

‘Philosophy must become composition of line and curve. There is a secret delerium in my teeth. I have the illusion of unlimited extent, arbitrary.’

‘Aesthetics is my god. My rugged sides become heated, ripened fruit, rocks and
leaves, sunlight, sleek hides of animals, coloured flowers. All words must be
physical and tangible.’

Then too there are the Troubles, all in metaphor, ethereally poignant, bloody, soul-
searching, sometimes even humorous in way of word play or grotesquery of image:
that seething, writhing reservoir of infinitely mutable images sufficient unto the
writer, the sculptor, the painter, or any harbinger of the imagination’s game reach
beyond itself: Northern Ireland. And yes, there are characters, Frank and Jane and
Alan and Harry, and others as well most surely, but the one that rises up in all her
spectral substance., to bless the novel’s realm with shades of evil, is one called
the Lady O’Handrahaun, of whom it comes to be written:

‘The “there-is” of the Lady O’Handrahaun has no literary or novelistic being, and thus it guarantees, for any ideal novelistic being, the efficacy of its presentational function, its structuring function, which spills and splits, before and after its

effect, the ungraspable plethora, the somnambulistic plethora of being, from the
thinkable cohesion of the reign of number and image over effective literary
situations. Arpeggios hover over the religious paintings of old masters. Forms
float above the urine of a virgin.’

But my pickings, what can they serve of this strange book at large? Minute glimpses,
I’d say, of whatever it is I have seen there. Chapter 16 addresses the notion of Novel and proffers as follows: ‘The Novel is a phallus pierced through by a needle. The Novel is a seagull resting on a pier at the end of the lake. What perfect voice will tell you the truth about my novel? The Novel must be there like the earth when shadow covers the wet grass. I would have liked to have been an otter.’

I wouldn’t mind being an otter myself at the moment, all play and to hell with
profundity, except as one dives deep for the uncomplicated joy of it. Séamas Cain’s
“The Dangerous Islands” is a work of serious genius. Whether or not it draws you
in for the long swim, I do recommend you test the waters and see.

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