Thursday, September 25, 2014

July 31, 1914


On this July 31, Hippolyte had a rare reason to leave the house, a dinner appointment in Paris that would necessitate a half hour’s walk to the Vincennes Metro stop, then an hour of exceedingly dull and noisy travel on the Metro, shamming sobriety all the while, respectable citizen of the Republic Hippolyte Tonnerre, mock-reading Le Temps and sagely stroking his ample beard, standing with alacrity to offer his seat to any dame d’un certain âge… then to change trains at the Opéra station, or get off at Les Halles and walk through the growling belly of Paris and make it to Le Croissant just in time to get down to some serious boozing again, in the excellent and convivial company of his dinner companion, the famous Socialist politician and one-time schoolmate of his from down South, Jean Jaurès, mon oncle Jean, the man who held the fate of the world in the palm of his hand . . . France’s most revered politician . . . the Pope of the proletariat … The one man in France, they said, who could persuade the militarists to put away their weapons. Respected even by the right and the monarchists. And it was so decent of him, so typical of the old darling, to include his onetime playmate Hippo in his dinner plans, when no doubt there would be far more eminent personages present, all looking down their long Gallo-Celtic noses at the inebriate and Salon-rejected artist…. or, more likely, ignoring him completely.

            What was Jean going to do? Maybe he was going to offer him a job? Or buy a painting…? Good hedge against inflation and currency speculation, what with all this talk of war…!

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Morning After

An Edinburgh mood I remember well. The morning after. The softly sifting rain; the gleaming pavement; the mingled whiffs of beer and diesel fumes; the catch in the throat; the prospect of tea. And tears. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Boylan and Conan Doyle, Together At Last

How nice to be listed as a co-author with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This volume will come out in the New Year, complete with two novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four) the Adventures, and an introduction by yours truly. (Hence the recent Holmes-related post.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Elementary, Vladimir

Vladimir Nabokov loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, so the great detective's name comes up from time to time in his work. For instance, crazy Charles Kinbote, in "Pale Fire," describes Holmes as "A hawk-nosed, lanky, rather likable private detective." And crazy Hermann, in the earlier "Despair," muses, "Sherlock Holmes' creator should have included one last episode, beautifully setting off the rest, in which the murderer in that tale should have turned out to be no other than Dr. Watson himself." 

That crazy Vlad.

Friday, September 12, 2014

RIP, Big Ian

Ian Paisley has died, ironically just before the Scottish referendum that may end the United Kingdom he so cherished. Here's a small meditation I wrote on him and my memories of living in Northern Ireland.

On June 8, 2008, the Reverend Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland’s Big Man, stepped down as First Minister of Northern Ireland, the ministate he fought long and hard to preserve as a province of the United Kingdom. It was the end of an era.
For most of his life, Paisley embodied the doggedness of the Ulster Protestant, that European Boer who views with suspicion most of the world outside of his tiny laager of Ulster, especially the neighboring, mostly Catholic—and, until the 1990s, poorer—Irish Republic, which comprises three-quarters of the island of Ireland. Like the “North,” the “South” is the result of an arbitrary British-administered divvying-up that occurred in 1921, when Northern Protestants, most of whom are descended from Lowland Scots and English colonizers imported by the Crown during the seventeenth century, went overnight from being a minority in all of Ireland to a majority in customized loyalist Northern Ireland. In the hearts of Paisley and his followers, Ulster is, was, and ever will be as integral a part of the United Kingdom as Hertfordshire or Devon.
Read the rest here

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The evening of September 10, 2001. Bid farewell to the receding shore of the past.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Referendum

If Scotland goes south, so to speak, much if not most of the blame can be laid at Cameron's feet. What would have happened, for instance, had he insisted on a ‘devo-max’ option on the ballot? And his current rush to catch up with events that long ago overtook him simply reeks of failure. Why couldn't good old Gordon have hung on just a little longer...? (I can hear the comments in an Edinburgh pub: Och, see you, Jimmie. Away out of that. Ye're not even Scottish.)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Exam Question: You Have Twenty Minutes to Answer

In the English Department at Texas State University, freshmen are challenged with this essay question:

"1. Roger Boylan called his second novel 'The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad: A Mostly Irish Farce.' Consider that subtitle. One presumes that it held some significance for him; few contemporary novelists, after all, use subtitles. Write an essay about how this novel is 'A Mostly Irish Farce.' In what senses is it 'mostly Irish'? Don’t waste your time with such obvious things as noting the simple presence of scenes in, and characters from, other countries. Ask yourself why these these things are there, about how seemingly fully Irish elements may be “mostly Irish,” about the significance of Boylan’s Irish-American background, and so on. Make sure that you understand precisely what a farce is. Ask yourself exactly how this book is a farce, whether other works we have read this semester are farces, whether there is a significant relationship between farce and Irish comic writing (or “mostly Irish” comic writing), and so on."

An excellent question. Not sure I could answer it. What about you, Olympiad readers? In 1,000 words or less?