Thursday, 9 July 2020

Guy Le Jeune

Guy Le Jeune is a writer, theatre-maker, musician and community facilitator, based in Donegal. His theatre work is in the area of reminiscence, memory and oral history. He has written seven plays, working with communities and individuals, to celebrate and validate their personal histories. His plays have covered railways, dancehalls, factories, communist priests, and most recently, with The Songbirds, the experiences of people living with a dementia diagnosis. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Costa, Sean O’Faolain and Fish prizes, and he is a Irish Writer’s Centre, Novel Fair winner. He is currently working on the digital history CINE Project, facilitating a coproduction with the community of Inch Island, writing a best practice manual for participatory community engagement, and trying to find time to write a science fiction novel.

A book you loved reading at a child.

Books and childhood - the excitement, the hope, the vicarious daydreams and the choice… oh the choice. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents as a kid. On Saturday mornings, Granny Wag would stuff a tartan shopping trolley with all the books she and my Granda had read during the week – she liked large-print crime novels, the gorier the better, and he would devour cowboy novellas in his greenhouse, thumbing the lurid covers with green fingers. Trolley packed, we’d walk up Cromer road, cross by the roundabout and slip behind the silent glass doors of Lillington library, my eyes grazing the spines. And the sad thing is, I can’t remember any of them, despite that shopping trolley being stuffed with stories. I guess because there were so many and too little time tor rad them in the seven days that followed. One book does stand out, not from the library, but a gift from a friend of my mother. She was younger, a teacher. She handed me The Otterbury Incident, ‘I think you might enjoy that,’ and I didn’t stop reading it. It’s still somewhere in the house, its post-war bomb-sites, spivs and gangs. I think there was a time when I could have recited the entire thing. That’s the thing about memory, somethings just stick.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

Too many bookcases, but the one nearest to the computer will do. First book, a 1912 reprint of The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Goldsmith, a tiny volume, leather-bound, rizla-thin pages, gilded edges… and when I open’d it, his ‘Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog’ saw the light again.
‘But soon a wonder came to light,
That show’d the rogues they lied:
The man recover’d of the bite,
The dog it was that died.’
The last (there was another one, but I haven’t read it so I figure it doesn’t count) was In Evil Hour, by Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez… a malevolent presence stalks the streets of the town. Yeah, that is a bit freaky, alright.

A book you have read more than once.

Two. One that fell apart: Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - a journey, a manual, an epiphany; a dark, joyous, profound work, but one that sticks in my mind. The other, still in one piece: Walden, for even if I open it at random, Henry David Thoreau has some words of wisdom and understanding of us and our place in this world. It is comforting, rewarding, moving and spiritual in a way too many spiritual books aren’t. I could happily live with nothing else than the words of Mr. Thoreau. ‘To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts,’ is about as good a philosophy to live by as I can imagine.

A book that you started but never finished.

Easy. Dune by Frank Herbert. Four times. I think. Ten pages or thereabouts, and I get a sudden urge to clear the cobwebbed boxes out of the attic, and I don’t like spiders. Yes, people have said it gets better, but so does a sprained ankle, and I’d rather not go through the actual spraining bit, thanks all the same. And I like Science Fiction, I’ve read a huge amount, and enjoyed a huge amount, but that one is soporific word-salad.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

This is a tough one. By what gauge do you call something underrated? Is it a lack of sales? Reviews? Literary prizes? Whatever about those arguments, here’s one that touched me, that deserves to be read, and you might not have heard of: Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris. It’s a strange book. A little Pirsig, a little Thoreau perhaps. I picked it up in an independent bookshop somewhere. It’s title appealed. I drove across Dakota years ago, inspired by Dee Brown’s work, eventually finding my way to Wounded Knee. The state is strange place. You fall asleep for hours and when you wake, you wonder if you’ve moved at all, and it’s even worse for your passengers - roads as straight as shotgun-barrel, scrub and grass and nothing much else. Dakota, the book, is about that, and it’s not for everyone, but if you want to feel a little calmer, a little more in touch with a simpler world, maybe try it. And I’ll add a caveat here too, I’m not religious, and there’s a fair bit of religion in it, but I guess it’s the good sort.

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