WHEN is a dirty book not a dirty book? Answer: when the book is written by a Fine Gael TD!
The absolutely shameless, indelicate and off-colour facts are as follows. A ‘dirty book’ in the bad ole days was any publication that tended to ‘inculcate principles that were subversive of public morality, excite sexual passion, or to corrupt or deprave.’
Former Mnister for Justice, Mr Alan Shatter, was suspected of writing one such ‘dirty’ book!
Some of us remember the Censorship of Publications Board, which four years ago – having been dormant for years – suddenly roared into life in response to a complaint that the steamy sex scenes in a Shatter-written novel were much too obscene for Irish readers.
Consequently, the Board seized his book. But, after due consideration, including examination of the conundrum as to whether or not the novel advocated the procurement of an abortion contrary to Irish censorship laws, the nod was given.
No problem. Shatter’s book could go on sale. It wasn’t obscene.
His literary effort, entitled Laura: A Story You Will Never Forget, was centred on the private life of a rural, pro-life Oireachtas member who was having an affair with his secretary. He subsequently urges her to have an abortion.
Nookie in the Dáil
Here is an extract for your delectation (it is abridged in the interests of decency and because this is a family newspaper). The action takes place on the thick, shaggy pile of a carpeted floor in the TD’s Leinster House office where our fictional public representative is strenuously engaged in a bout of extra-marital carnal knowledge that is, of course, perfectly lawful.
Here goes: ‘Her inexperienced hands touched him so tentatively that every muscle in his body ached for fulfillment … he knew it was her first time … she dug her fingers into his back, moaning and gasping for breath.’
You get the drift: and our assessment? Well, as a depiction of parliamentary nookie, it’s somewhat hackneyed, out-of-date schoolboy stuff, and grim; just like Fine Gael itself!
As for what happened to Shatter’s novel? The reading public lost interest in the controversy and we have no idea as to the success or otherwise of the book, other than that at one stage hardline literary buffs could purchase it for just one cent on Amazon.
New kid on block
Mr Shatter isn’t the only politico (now ex-politico) who wrote a controversial novel. New kid on the block, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan (ironically also a solicitor), produced a not-to-dissimilar work of art.
Ms Madigan, by the way, is the lady who recently jumped from the backbenches to the Cabinet table in the wake of Taoiseach Varadkar’s casting of his deputy prime minister, Frances Fitzgerald, into outer darkness.
But, curiously, unlike the reception given to Mr Shatter’s book, Ms Madigan’s publication was not considered ‘dirty.’ Instead, it was deemed ‘raunchy,’ ‘racy’ and ‘naughty.’
Question is, from the standpoint of literary value, how aesthetically pleasing are Mr Shatter and Ms Madigan’s two very important tomes?
What insight do they give us into the human condition? How complex or fascinating are the plots they construct and what do the books teach us about the political world that is worth knowing?
We also must bear in mind that the novels are pure fiction and that the characters are fictional. Likewise, we must not forget that the authors-novelists-politicos are paragons of virtue and the political party to which they belong can rightly claim ownership of the title ‘Christian and Democratic.’ Of course.
Missing the message
But, all that aside – and here’s the important bit – does the message they present in their novels change you, the reader, as a person such as a weekend reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses certainly would (all 933 pages, Bodley Head Edition 1962)?
And the answer to that is … er … hardly … cripes … no … absolutely not!
Interesting too is the fact that not a whisper of argy-bargy greeted Ms Madigan’s tome, entitled Negligent Behaviour.
It too is a literary whopper but whether her effort conforms to the responsibilities of a Culture Minister entrusted with the task of promoting the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement is a different matter altogether.
The book tells the story of a solicitor from humble origins who rises to fame and fortune thanks to a preference for laying on her back in bed rather than aspiring to the bench in court!
Indo/Sindo experts assessed its literary qualities and came to this conclusion: they liked its depiction of ‘corruption, blackmail fraud, embezzlement’ and particularly … wait for it … the sex.
A naughty book
The book, they said, had ‘lots and lots of sex.’ But – and this is very important – because of the sexual scenes the Indo/Sindo conferred on it the literary designation of ‘naughty.’ The book certainly was not described as ‘dirty’ as would have been the case in Mr Shatter’s time.
The official stamp of ‘naughty’ from a FG-inclined organ raises an interesting question that touches on advanced literary theory and, natch, feminist criticism and gender studies.
Why, we ask, did Indo scribes fail to notice the trivialisation of underlying female cultural and political principles (might we say ‘tools’?) in Ms Madigan’s magnum opus; and why was there such a pre-occupation with what is referred to by the lower orders as ‘shagging’?
Were the critics of the opinion that our Culture Minister’s novel really didn’t cut mustard – that it was a bags? And that, out of loyalty to General O’Duffy, they did their best to ensure her ‘oeuvre’ commercially benefited from a puff piece, even if a peg had to be attached to the newspaper’s refined Blueshirt nose?
Was that the reason they didn’t call her book crude, dirty, tasteless, bad, smutty, indecent, grubby, steamy, lecherous or farmyard, which (it is likely) would have been the type of epithet hurled were the novel written by anyone else.
On the other hand, calling it ‘naughty’ was okay. That sounded mischievous, mildly titillating and reserved.
Needless to say, there is no reason why a cabinet minister cannot produce something culturally uplifting – or readable – within a novelistic genre.
Other famous politicians have done so – such as Benjamin Disraeli, André Malraux and Britain’s Edwina Curry. But then, our new Culture Minister, Ms Madigan, thankfully, is no Edwina Currie!
For small mercies, we are … etc … etc.