David Butler is a multi-award winning novelist, poet, short-story writer and playwright. The most recent of his three published novels, City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. His second poetry collection, All the Barbaric Glass, was published in 2017 by Doire Press. Arlen House is to bring out his second short story collection, Fugitive, in 2020.
An outstanding book you read as a child.
Like most of us, I loved The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia cycle, but the two I still periodically go back to are Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass. I love the combination of logical paradox, semantic games, grotesquery, and wild imagination running through these two mind-trips. It’s a fantastic universe peopled with such wonderful inventions – the Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts, Humpty Dumpty, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But it’s also grounded in the bodily uncertainties of the pre-adolescent bamboozled by the arbitrariness of grown-up decrees.
A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. This is a witty novel in all senses of the word, filled with exquisite miniatures. Moore's descriptions (such as the decaying contents in a fridge) are crafted with both fun and with sensuous care. But beyond her sumptuous, lithographic precision and acid humour, the novel tackles topics as difficult as race and parental responsibility with genuine wisdom. I’ve also given as gifts a whole raft of novels by the wonderful Daniel Woodrell: Tomato Red; The Death of Sweet Mister; Winter’s Bone.
A book you have read more than once.
I’m a compulsive re-reader. Besides pretty much everything by Dostoevsky, I’m going to single out Blindness, by Jose Saramago, the only novel I ever managed to struggle through in Portuguese (having read it in translation twice). Despite its horrific premise – a pandemic of contagious blindness brings society to its knees - this is a novel of breath-taking beauty. The prose is exquisite, the vision of mankind, despite the Breugelesque horror of a descent into filth and savagery, ultimately affirmative. I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks the present pandemic an affliction!
A book that you started but never finished.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I’ve just recently given up on this one (after a mere 260 pages). It’s a fascinating enough premise, but I found the characterisation so thin as to be two-dimensional and repetitively presented. I also found the pace extremely slow (in the hands of Patricia Highsmith the novel might have come in at 250 rather than 650 pages). I have to confess I also abandoned The Goldfinch, that time after only 200 pages!!
A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.
Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo. Rulfo’s only novel (he also wrote one exquisite collection of short stories entitled El llano en llanos), for me this is the greatest novel of the Latin American Boom. Garcia Marquez could quote entire chapters by heart! Written in haunting prose, it’s a kind of Mexican Cre na Cille, straddling the worlds of the living and the dead in its evocation of a ghost town and its dead caudillo but without the jiggery-pokery of magical realism. A monumental, beautiful work, particularly if you can handle the original Spanish.