I just finished writing a review of The Pen Friend, a new novel by Ciaran Carson of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Carson is one of my favorite writers, and he's been mentioned on these pages a few times (re: Shamrock Tea, for instance, or The Star Factory). But aside from a periodic appearance in the New Yorker and the efforts of Wake Forest University Press he is unknown in the United States.
Which is too bad. The Irish Times loved The Pen Friend:
But while he mocks himself and his hero’s overaesthetic world-view – “it’s all a bit of tautology really, or codology” – there is a constant current of ethical seriousness running through the book. In a sense The Pen Friend is both a protest against and an alternative to the North’s recent murderous history. As Gabriel says, not very confidently, “living with beautiful things must necessarily work against narrow sectarian interests”.
To live with a beautiful thing, it first has to be created. This novel is an original creation. Technically complex but oddly simple, arcanely informative, humorously puzzling, sensible, sensational, compassionate, it deserves to win whatever prizes are going. For the Man Booker jury, here’s a book and a man.
I loved the book, too, although I'm skeptical that a novel as singular and idiosyncratic as this one will win a Booker. One can hope.
IMAGE: Ciaran Carson, from the cover of his Collected Poems, published last year by Wake Forest University Press.