The Written World
Essays & Reviews
By: Kevin Power
Publication Date: 12 May 2022
The Written World by Kevin Power
Art honours the world, and criticism honours art, even – perhaps especially – when the critic sets out to destroy. The bad review is hardly ever written out of mere spite. In most cases, the motivation is disappointed idealism. Critics are people who love art and who hate to see it traduced. Hence the critic’s sempiternal cry: You’re doing it wrong. What the critic wants is for you to do it better.
Since 2008, acclaimed novelist Kevin Power has reviewed almost three hundred and fifty books. Power declares, ‘Even now, cracking open a brand-new hardback with my pencil in my hand, I feel the same pleasure, and the same hope. That’s the great secret: every critic is an optimist at heart.’
Art that thinks and feels at the same time – ‘good art’ – requires explication. The writing of criticism in response to such art is an activity that has taken place since Aristotle first sat down to figure out what made tragedy work. It is in the pursuit of this question – what makes good art ‘good’ – that Kevin Power found his vocation. During a ten-year stint as a regular freelance reviewer for the Sunday Business Post, Power fell in love with the writing of criticism, and with the reading of it, too, particularly by talented novelists who review books on the side. His conclusion is that criticism is absolutely an art. But it is never more so than when practiced by an actual artist.
These pieces, ranging from reviews of Susan Sontag to the meaning of Greta Thunberg, apocalyptic politics, and literary theory, represent a decade’s worth of thinking about books; a record of the author’s attempts to honour art, and through art, the world. In The Written World, Power explains how he became a critic and what he thinks criticism is. It begins and ends with a long personal essays, ‘The Lost Decade’, written especially for this collection, about his mental and writing block after publishing Bad Day in Blackrock and his decade-long journey to White City. The pieces gathered by Power are connected by a theme – this is a book about writing, seen from various positions, and about growth as an artist and a critic.
PRAISE FOR THE WRITTEN WORLD
‘Power sets out to slay giants, and these incisive essays represent a ballsy foray into cultural politics. Provocative and engaging, The Written World provides a sharp, inventive assessment of what contemporary literary tastes reveal about us.’ – Dr Selina Guinness, Lecturer in Irish Literature, Department of Humanities, IADT, and author of The Crocodile by the Door
‘Utterly engrossing, The Written World is a masterful testament to an apprenticeship hard-won and served with great humour, insight and humanity. You will come away from it feeling brighter, wiser and – unbelievably – kinder towards the world and our strange imagined place in it.’ – Mia Gallagher, author of Shift, Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, and HellFire
‘This was a pleasure to read. It put me in the presence of someone thinking interesting thoughts about interesting things and provoked me to do some thinking of my own. Power really explores ideas. These essays are basically the opposite of hot takes.’ – Patrick Freyne, Irish Times writer and author of OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea
‘The elegant and intelligent essays in The Written World will appeal to anyone with an interest in literary criticism.’ – Nicole Flattery, author of Show Them a Good Time
‘Thoughtful, incisive, fearless and witty, The Written World offers the casual reader Power’s clear-eyed reappraisal of some of the biggest and most untouchable literary reputations.’ – Ed O’Loughlin, author of The Last Good Funeral of the Year and This Eden
‘Every essay here is a pleasure to read … The light touch with which Power deploys his wide and deep reading is illustrated by his extensive quotation, from the Roman dramatist Terence to Hannibal Lecter. It is a masterclass in and of itself … his book is metropolitan and cosmopolitan in word and spirit, enlightening and amusing, and across its pages art is happening too.’ Dublin Review of Books
‘Kevin Power, best known for his acclaimed debut novel, Bad Day in Blackrock (2008), is not only an excellent fiction writer, but also a remarkably perceptive literary critic and essayist … The Written World is a testament to Power’s well-deserved status as one of Ireland’s most reliably engaging writers. Oh, and did I mention he’s often hilarious, too?’ Totally Dublin
‘In this smart and funny collection of essays and reviews, Kevin Power doles out praise but isn’t afraid to put the boot in … It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read either of his novels to hear that Power the critic embodies all these qualities — intelligence, good taste, humour and common sense — and that The Written World is criticism worth reading, for enjoyment above any other consideration.’ Irish Independent
‘[The Written World] contain[s] essays on criticism itself, authors and their work, society and crises. All are delivered in beautifully wrought sentences, along with a healthy dose of Power’s own personal thoughts and experiences … a joy to read … His warmth, humour, humanity and intellectual rigour should ensure that this collection finds its place not just on the dusty bookshelves of Trinity College’s English Department – but also in the hands of ordinary readers on the 46A bus.’ Sunday Business Post
‘Power is a writer’s writer, and this collection of essays and reviews captures his sharp wit and incisive, fair critical eye like no other’ Dubray Staff Choice (Luke – Dubray Grafton Street, Dublin)
Kevin Power: ‘We have a culture where niceness is valued over honesty’ – Read an interview with Kevin in the Irish Examiner here
‘Prefaced by an unsettlingly frank account of artistic and personal breakdown after the success of his first novel, this glorious collection follows the triumphant publication last year of his second. It marks Power as one of the best, a writer to depend upon. I will read every word he writes.’ Sunday Independent
‘His book reviews are zingy and readable, with a knack for a killer opening … tremendous fun’ Irish Times
‘searingly honest … the depth and breadth of Power’s scholarship is immense, but it’s the fluency and grace of his pen that keeps you reading, even when you disagree with him … he is one of the country’s brightest literary stars.’ Anne Cunnigham, Meath Chronicle
‘In prose that glistens with style and intelligence, Power draws on the breadth of his reading and elegantly marshals his arguments … At his best, he proves as adept and illuminating guide through the world of literary criticism.’ Brendan Daly, Irish Examiner
Irish Independent Book of the Year
Hot Press Book of the Year
‘He delivers punchy, witty and considered opinions on an array of subjects from Greta Thunberg to Norman Mailer. The opening essay on failure, a meditation (sharing personal experience) on how it is hardwired into a writer’s life, should be mandatory reading for anyone hoping to be published.’ Martina Devlin, Irish Independent
‘Power’s logic, his thought-processes, are in general as sumptuously balanced as his sentences, which manage to accommodate some unsettled and unsettling issues without knocking a single word out of place. His piece on Literary Theory (vs. Liberal Humanism) is a masterclass of intellectual poise … [He is] a critic of high integrity.’ Harry Cochrane, The London Magazine
An interview with Kevin on the Books for Breakfast podcast
An interview with Kevin on RTÉ Radio 1’s Ray D’Arcy Show
‘Reviewing books at the same time as [Kevin Power] is a very frustrating business because he’s so bloody good at it.’ Pat Carty, Hot Press
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Irish writer and academic Kevin Power is a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. His writing appears regularly in The Sunday Business Post’s book review section. His novel Bad Day in Blackrock was published by The Lilliput Press in 2008, and was later adapted to a film by Lenny Abrahamson, entitled What Richard Did (2012), which picked up five awards at the Irish Film and Television Awards. In 2009, Power received the highly coveted Hennessy XO Emerging Fiction Award and was also shortlisted for RTÉ’s Francis MacManus short story award in 2007. He was the winner of the 2009 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. In 2021, Power released White City, his much-anticipated second novel, to wide acclaim. Read more here.
|Dimensions||136 × 216 mm|
12 May 2022
Paperback with flaps, 256pp.