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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: January 2020

Chapter 13 - Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect in some Contemporary Irish Novels

from II - Developments


Can formal innovation make a direct contribution to the affective power of prose fiction? Do the kinds of linguistic deformation characteristic of a certain strand of modernism lend themselves to the depiction, and evocation in the reader, of emotion? These questions are raised with particular force by a number of recent Irish novels, which can be seen as taking up the challenge posed by Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Three such novels are the focus of this essay: Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, and Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Short passages are discussed in order to demonstrate that the innovative linguistic devices in these novels – McBride’s fragmented stream-of-consciousness tracing of the traumatic events in a young woman’s life, Barry’s comic invention of an episode in John Lennon’s career, and McCormack’s unpunctuated, spatially arranged meditation – all enhance rather than reduce their emotional impact.