On Tuesday, March 31, acclaimed author, Gerson Irish Reader Claire Kilroy, gave a reading to a full house at the UConn Alumni Center. Dubliner Claire Kilroy is one of Ireland’s most prominent contemporary writers. She is the author of four novels with Faber and Faber: All Summer (2003), Tenderwire (2006), All Names Have Been Changed (2009), and The Devil I Know (2012), a carnivalesque fable of Ireland’s recent property bubble that resurrects a character from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. She was awarded the 2004 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and has been short-listed for the Kerry Group Novel of the Year Award three times. Kilroy was the Gerson Irish Reader six years ago, and we are delighted to see her return.
Kilroy has been interested in writing fiction since the short horror story about ghosts in chains and white sheets, written at age 7. Since then, she’s found inspiration in the vivid sentences of Vladmir Nabokov and the Irish novel Athena by John Banville.
In a review of her most recent novel, The Devil I Know, critic Stevie Davies talks about the poignancy of the novel, focusing a scene in which live lobsters escape the pot and scramble across the floor: “…its feeling for the rape of nature, both landscape and animals, is powerful and poignant. The scene of lobsters being barbecued is one I shall flinchingly remember… The savage indignation of such a scene taps into the darkness of the finest Irish satire.”
Kilroy began reading from her novel, Devil I Know. Before she began, she explained that if her previous book was written out of anger, this one was out of sadness. The main characters, Hickey and Tristram, are old classmates; Tristram suffers from a drinking problem, and she read from a section of the book that intimately investigates the inner workings of Tristram’s addiction as he sits at a pub with Hickey and a few others. The sharp, anxious way in which Kilroy captures his deadly love affair with the dark pint of beer is poignant and honest.
Next, Kilroy read from a later section in the book, which describes Tristram and Hickey’s drive in the truck in the dusk. The dialogue is quick and natural, keeping with it that sense of anxiousness and expectation. Hickey starts talking about the feeling of the Devil in the backseat, and Kilroy dances around the dark imaginations of both characters without ever admitting or denying that presence.
Once the room was opened to questions, the audience learned a little more about how Kilroy develops ideas and describes characters. One audience member asked about the intense feelings of her characters—must the author put herself there? Kilroy responded, “The author must realize that the people in your book are more real than the people in your life,” and that “Pretty much every action I describe has been carried out by me.” Additionally, she says, trouble can arise when the characters become too similar to the author herself. To deal with that creeping “policing” that she noticed, Kilroy switched the gender of her main characters and has felt more freedom since. Another audience member asked Kilroy about the vividness of her descriptions of addiction, especially in relation to the character of Tristram. Kilroy talked for a bit about her experience in New York City years ago, in which she attended various Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She saw horrifying stories that were “way outside [her] frame of reference; it was a sort of ‘involuntary research.’”