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Evan Musgrave reading

Evan Musgrave

Rathmines via Waterford

Where in Dublin do you live?
Rathmines
Where are you from?
Waterford

Are you a member of a book club?

Yes.

Tell us a little bit about your bookclub and what connects the group:

I recently set up a fortnightly meet among friends where we work our way through a 'best contemporary short stories list'. We organise it through a WhatsApp group. Over a few Guinnesses we discuss the story we're doing that week and have a literature/general chat. Even though it's a global list, so far most stories have been by Irish authors.

It's clear there's serious talent among young Irish writers at the moment. Hopefully this will continue to be nurtured; it's amazing to see our literary culture punch above its weight in such a way.


What are you reading right now?

Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider.

Tell us a bit about it:

Gripping and extremely impressive book about the follies of pure identity politics that is polluting political discourse. Left and right. Haider's Marxist deconstruction of identity politics feels so vital right now.


What is your favourite book of all time?

Young Skins by Colin Barrett.

Tell us a bit about it:

I wanted to include this book in several other places and I'm glad there's a favorite book question. Though it's only out a few years, Barrett's capturing of contemporary rural Irish culture is so spellbinding to me. I write, and have never been published outside of college zines/papers, and this book gives me hope, conviction, vision... So many things to just give me the sense of how this upbringing can be the setting for incredible art.

Of course you have McGahern and Synge and lots of amazing stories set in rural Ireland. But Barrett gets THIS era so remarkably well. He seems to owe plenty to Kevin Barry, another great modern writer, but Barrett's writing feels more poised and less self-aware. Overall there's just something that gives it that extra quality. It takes the Kevin Barry blueprint and pushes it to its peak expression. I read Young Skins practically every time I sit down to write. I have a creative writing meet with friends from college on the go now and I aim go submit some scéals this year. After some years of low self-esteem and other issues, Young Skins is the text that gives me life and makes writing feel less like a pressure cooker environment to prove myself, and instead an act of creation where the joy is in creating. I was once at a book launch where Colin was speaking and I was too scared to approach him because I felt like it come off like a psycho fan! But hopefully there's a next time and I'd love to get the chance to tell him how vital I consider this short story collection. 'The best Irish writer since Joyce' seems to be The agreed benchmark for best out there. And I wouldn't say Barrett has attained that. But according to me he's the best placed out of Irish writers under 40 anyway.


What book do you remember most from your childhood?

Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.

Tell us a bit about it:

I remember them being just so exciting. The idea of an early teenage spy was immensely engrossing for an adventurous young boy. I remember going to Westport with my family and more or less ignoring the scenery on offer to feast on a book every day and a half. I couldn't put them down.


I think Niall Quinn's autobiography was maybe my first grown up book. I think it was the first time I read a book in which the first chapter mirrored the last one and which dealt heavily in flashbacks. It was interesting to get an idea of how non-linear storytelling worked, many years before moving on to masters of this particular writing craft.


Which of your books is battered from using over and over again?

My assortment of Jeeves and Wooster novels by P.G. Wodehouse.

Tell us a bit about it:

The use of language and the richness of comedy in these books is just on another level. I haven't come across any other comedic writer to set up and deliver quips the way Wodehouse does. Often, its hard to even grasp HOW he does what he does, even though the words add right there on the page. Overall I don't read much comedic novels, but I have no greater admiration for a wordsmith in literary form than I do for Wodehouse.


What is your favourite book by an international writer?

Purity by Jonathan Franzen.

Tell us a bit about it:

It's hard to choose a particular Franzen novel. He strikes me as the most impressive contemporary storyteller. His scope is so ambitious and he pulls it off every time. I liked Purity because it had a female protagonist for a change and the psychological depth he reaches in the course of building up hundreds of pages of character creation is simply phenomenal.


Which book do you feel depicts your own or another culture most vividly?

Things Fall Apart by China Achebe.

Tell us a bit about it:

It's hard for this book not to make a massive impression. His way of vividly depicting life in pre-colonial Nigeria is so absorbing. Achebe's craft and deceptively lyrical prose style in this book makes for a fascinating read, especially for someone who grew up in an almost entirely secular 21st century western environment.


Was there a book that really changed your mind about something?

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan.

Tell us a bit about it:

There are some psychology and sociology books that I'm tempted to choose ahead of this one, but this recent enough history book, I felt, just turned so much of what I had been taught about world history in school on its axis. The narrative that the Roman Empire was the centre of the world and away in the dark parts of the map more or less nothing happened is bizarrely inaccurate. This book I felt provided an amazing exercise in perception widening that even that mental process alone can apply to almost any sphere of knowledge.


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