14 May 2006

Fables of the Irish Intelligentsia, Nina FitzPatrick

This collection of short stories is strikingly original, bizarre, and often hilarious. Irish stories tend to feature wee leprechauns, ghosts, magic, bogs, guilt-ridden Catholics, etc. In fact, so does this one, but with such a bizarre twist that they seem radically different - unlike the common precious, melodramatic, self-absorbed voice of stereotypical Irish literature, the reader is confronted with brash wit and a sort of in your face attitude. The stories are quintessentially Irish, but minus the cliche. In fact, in direct opposition to the cliche. They're crude but funny, very clever, and written in a peculiar style that's quite difficult to describe. " 'What are you doing?' she asked him again and again. 'I'm shoving my cock in your cunt,' he replied like a true British empiricist." There's a cosmopolitan perspective coupled with a curious kind of xenophobia, a sense of being a duck out of water in the age of globalization - "Every time I spoke French it felt like standing in front of a doctor and being examined for the clap. I was ashamed. My words were inflamed and ulcerated." There are cults, yogis, communists, ghosts - it's a great time.

Nina FitzPatrick, incidentally, is a nom de plume - the stories are co-written by Nina Witoszek, a Polish writer, and her husband, the Irish Pat Sheeran.There was a big scandal when Fables of the Irish Intelligentsia was nominated for the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus Irish Literature Prize for Fiction and Nina FitzPatrick turned out to be unable to prove her Irish origins. The prize was given to Colm Toibin instead.

In any case, maybe it's because I study Polish and Irish literature, but the revelation that the authorship of the book was Polish-Irish made perfect sense to me, and did a lot of work in accounting for the particularities of the tone and style. There's some of the dry Polish humor and penchant for the absurdity, coupled with lovable, effusive Irish bizarre-ness. A marvelous book.


An anonymous person has posted several comments informing me that Nina Witoszek and Pat Sheeran were never married. She certainly claims to have been, but Anonymous Poster says it's a lie. I really am not qualified to speak to the issue, but I wouldn't want to be accused of spreading misinformation, so there you go.


Anonymous said...

whoever you are, you're incorrect:

Pat Sheeran (the primary author of
was _never_ the husband of his
co-author, Nina Witoszek.
Her website refers to him as her 'husband,' but in point of fact they were never married.
I knew them both.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I too knew them both and I can confirm that they most certainly were never married, although they were a deeply devoted couple. The stuff on the website is not surprising - both of them had/have wicked senses of humour. Pat is no longer among us, having died suddenly a few years ago. Nina is alive and well.

An old friend of Pat's

Julian Gough said...

I also knew them both, a splendid couple. Pat Sheeran lectured me in Galway. In fact I wrote an appreciation of him for Film West (which also ended up in the Irish Times). I believe neither version is currently free to view on the internet, so I may as well paste it in here, as it gives a flavour of the man...

PAT SHEERAN, academic, novelist, screenwriter. An Appreciation.

"Pat Sheeran was... No.

Talking about Pat Sheeran in the past sense feels unnatural. “Pat was...” No, it’s too strange. It’s as though the Corrib had suddenly reversed direction. Pat was a force of nature, a man possessed, Caliban battling Ariel in the body of Prospero...

I miss him. The books and scripts he wrote with his love of the last fifteen years, Nina Witoszek (under the extremely rude and wonderful pseudonym of Nina FitzPatrick), will live. But there are legacies more subtle. He threw off ideas like an angle-grinder throws off sparks. A year ago, rewriting my novel Juno & Juliet, I had a single hole in it I couldn’t fill. Unable to finish the book, I went on a wild goose chase with Pat instead. In the car, utterly unaware of my problem, Pat told me a perfect story from his past, that completely filled the gap. Pat let me steal the story. Later on, my publisher told me it was his favourite scene.

Wild goose chases with Pat... We met once, in the street. I invited him for coffee, he said he had no time, he had to buy some DIY stuff for the new wooden house he was so proud of out in Clydagh, and be out in the bog behind it before dark. A flock of wild geese had flown over the house the night before, and he wanted to follow them tonight. He had a theory they were living on a small lake out there. In fact, would I like to come with him?

We ended up deep in the bog as night fell, no sign of anything larger than a snipe, talking about the UFOs he’d seen in Connemara, and the electrical storms I’d seen in the desert skies of Nevada blasting the night above the old American nuclear test sites. We walked back to the car under the Milky Way, looking up at the shooting stars, and the slow drift of the satellites.

The fantastic tension that arcs between the world as it serenely exists outside our comprehension, and the detailed, inaccurate model we build of it inside our skulls, that tension galvanised him, he jittered with it. He was more intensely aware of reality than most, and more eager to touch it, to feel its flank and guess the shape of the elephant. He knew we were blind. It kept his mind open. Truth could come from anywhere, the bog or the library. Let’s go look for it...

I knew him, on and off, for seventeen years, since he lectured me on Yeats in what was then UCG. He had no sense of hierarchy. He either enjoyed your company or he didn’t. He bought me the odd dinner when I was broke. I never had a chance to buy him dinner back. He was a good cook. A great host.

Already he is drifting into myth. On the bus to the funeral in Navan, the stories were being polished, swapped, perfected. The honorary degrees he gave out free in Eyre Square (on actual UCG parchments, dubiously acquired), because if Ronald Reagan could get an honorary law degree from UCG after illegally mining the harbours of Nicaragua, what were they worth?

And was it over the threatened closure of a post office that he delared a State of Independence in Letterfrack, blockaded the road with a small army of academics and farmers, and eventually negotiated an honourable settlement with the gardai when everyone got cold and hungry? And was a beautiful woman involved?

What was in the Polish secret service file on him, in the years he and Nina attended student parties observed by the secret police?

Did he really levitate, as he believed?

What were the fairy lights of the Burren he saw with Jeff O’Connell?

He was so recently planting trees in his new garden, planning its future, with the sons, David and Marcos, of whom he was so proud, with whom he was again close after years of painful disconnection...

He is so deeply missed by his sons, by his sisters, his brother, his ex-wife, his friends, neighbours, students, by his beloved Nina, and the directors, producers, editors, and academics he worked with and fought with.

The strangest thing about seeing him in his coffin was that the mortician had combed his hair. What industrial-strength product was required to hold those wild curls back in a smooth, orderly quiff? Wood glue, perhaps. No doubt they have sprung free since, beneath the ground. His antennae, connecting his mind to the universe, crackling with static, exploring another strange world.

Few live so intensely. Few burn so bright. As Anne Marie Fives said on hearing of his shocking, unfair death, so sudden and far too young: Pat Sheeran used up his heart."

-Julian Gough

culture_vulture said...

Thanks for sharing that; it's a lovely tribute.

I must say, it's somewhat embarrassing that this post, which I dashed off in a moment a good few years ago, has ended up being the blog entry that gets the most traffic. I don't know how it managed to climb above amazon.com in a google search, but dear me, how the folly of our youth can haunt us.

Anonymous said...

I knew him all my life he was my uncle, a wonderful man, a force to be reckoned with, a loyal brother and a great storey teller.I have fond memories of picking wild mushrooms with him in Kinvara.He is deeply missed by his sons, by his sisters, his brother, his ex-wife, his friends, neighbours and students. Shine on you crazy diamond xxxxx

Anonymous said...

Where can I study the course you did in Irish and Polish literature?! What a combo!

culture_vulture said...

Glad you think it's interesting! As for where you can study it - well, if someone gives me a job, I'd be happy to teach a course on it. Until then, you'll have to content yourself with finding a good Comparative Literature program and creating the syllabus yourself.

Russell said...

I learnt this tale from the director of the film Nina Fitzpatrick wrote - the Fifth province - as I wanted to meet 'her' while in Galway. Frank Stapleton (for it was he) gave a cackle and - eventually - told me the tale, as he whisked me to Dublin and environs.a nice prank, and sadly a serious tactic in getting published and/or produced in this vale of tears.

Anonymous said...

For the blog author: in case you're confused by the ref to Pat's "sons," here's the explanation. Pat _was_ married, but not to Nina; his wife (later his ex-wife) was Spanish, not Polish. Nina was always his girlfriend; sometimes they lived together (in Galway or various European cities) and sometimes they did not. You can't trust Nina's web site or whatever site says they were married. --- And yes, we all miss Pat very much, even now, not quite ten years after his death. I was looking at an old photo of him (from '93) just yesterday. Miss him a lot. There will never be another Pat.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, people, who cares if they were married or not? Why do you even talk about it? It's nobody's bloody business.

culture_vulture said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To the person who says, Who cares if they were married? Of course the fact doesn't matter; what matters is that one half of the pseudonym Nina FitzPatrick has, after Pat's death, claimed to *be* Nina FitzPatrick, and she (Nina Witoszek) is not. On the back flap of the jacket of the last Nina FitzPatrick novel, published after Pat's death, she gave the publisher only her own photograph, and has subsequently claimed she wrote all the N. F. fiction. So it is important to point out that she is not a trustworthy source of information about Pat Sheeran. Her claim that he was her husband is the claim she has used to take all the royalties from their work, whereas Pat's descendants should have gotten it. So this is not a matter of romantic silliness; it's an illegal fiction. And an immoral one, because she goes around to conferences claiming to be NF. ---- But enough about her. -- Pat was, as all his friends and nieces and nephews have written, a dear, lovely, warm, brilliant, eccentric genius. We all miss him a lot and would give much to have him back here alive again. We all treasure his memory and his wonderful, hilarious books. Sin e'.