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January Books 8) The Star Factory

8) The Star Factory, by Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson is one of Northern Ireland's best known poets, but this book is a prose rambling through the streets of Belfast, both geographically and literarily, interspersed with meditations on the English and Irish languages, his relationship with his father, and the nature of the literary life. For anyone like me who knows and loves the city, it's a quick and pleasant read, where we can share our memories with the author. He writes of his former home, "The Bungalow", through whose gardens I once tried to take a short-cut; he remembers playing "off-ground tig", which is something I haven't thought of in 25 years; he explains the shape of Boyne Bridge and meditates on its name. In other cases I've had similar but not identical experiences - my school too had a forbidden forest and a pond nearby, though it was several miles to the south of his; I too had a disastrous tooth filling from an apprentice dentist (a friend of mine who was resitting his exams and did the job for me on the fly - badly).

I was very amused by the convincing link he establishes between the Crown Liquor Saloon and Doctor Who via Carol Reed's film Odd Man Out (another one for the Amazon wish list, I think, along with Cocteau's Orphée which he also makes relevant). But I'm particularly grateful for the concept of dinnshenchas, the History of Places, the concept that "the land of Ireland is perceived as being completely translated into story: each place has a history which is continuously retold." This puts into a single word something I've always felt to be important, and not just in Ireland.

It's not a perfect book - too many laundry lists, too much quoting from other sources at times - but I did enjoy it; I wonder if it could make the same impression on someone who doesn't know Belfast?

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