Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Ahab and Quixote: The Endless Search

(Courtesy Ecco Press/Harper Collins);(Wordsworth Editions)

“Tell me your company, and I will tell you what you are.” – Sancho Panza, Don Quixote.

“Call me Ishmael.” – Nameless narrator of Moby Dick.

Certain pieces of great writing seem to haunt us throughout our lives. It’s almost as if their authors are stalking us and offering up new reasons for rereading and rediscovering whatever it was about them that mesmerized us during our initial encounter. Of course, which pieces and which authors vary from person to person: for some it’s King Lear or Jane Eyre or For Whom the Bell Tolls (all of which leave me utterly cold, despite the fact that I appreciate their greatness). Such recursively magnetic books might be touchstones from our youth, such as On the Road or Howl, for me, or they might be lighthouses that show us the way out of some dark storm or other, such as all of the poetry ever written by Wallace Stevens.

It often appears as if some people will literally find any excuse at all to read once again and then write again about two groundbreaking novels in particular, Don Quixote by the Spaniard Miguel de Cervantes and Moby Dick by the American Herman Melville, and I readily admit to being one of those people. But I also claim that my excuse is a valid one (don’t we all?) and situate them in a parallel track which becomes obvious once the reader temporarily accepts my obsession with both. I’ll go so far as to claim (almost) that they are the same novel in some salient ways, and that the twisted times we currently are living through contain psychological and even spiritual echoes of each in the same way that Melville himself evokes Cervantes for me.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Martin McDonagh, Almost Reformed: The Banshees of Inisherin

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin.

Set on an island off the coast of Ireland in the early 1920s, the era of the original “troubles,” where the locals can hear the gunshots marking the violence of the virtual civil war from the mainland, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is a portrait of Irish life in a goldfish-bowl community. The two main characters, Colm Doherty (Brendan Glesson) and Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), are buddies who have been drinking together regularly in the local pub. But one day, when Pádraic comes by to pick up his friend at home for their daily pint, Colm refuses to answer the door. He’s decided that he doesn’t like Pádraic anymore – that he’s a dullard with nothing to say for himself and that Colm, who leans toward melancholy, no longer wants to waste his time hanging out with him when he could be focusing on writing music and playing it with enthusiastic graduate music students.