Literature’s power to connect

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Good fiction often gives expression to things we may find difficult to pin down or understand; skilled writers allow the forces that bubble beneath the surface of our everyday lives to come up for air, and in doing so, reveal them for us to see.

Every year Dublin City Public Libraries choose a particular title for their One City, One Book initiative. The idea, of course, is to get as many people as possible to read a great work of literature. But not only that, it is also to encourage people to engage with a text, reflect on it, discuss or even have debates about it with others. It is therefore as much about connecting our private, individual thoughts and lives with those of others as it is with simply settling down to a good read.

The selection for this year is James Plunkett’s Strumpet City. The book covers a particular point in Irish history (from 1907 to 1914) during which poverty was rife. The Dublin slums were among the worst in Europe at the time, and large families were often forced to live in cramped, squalid, life-denying conditions.

At the novel’s centre is the antagonism between the city’s unskilled workers (who are organised by the General Worker’s Union) and the city’s employers. It all culminates in the Great Lockout of 1913, during which workers were told to sign documents renouncing the Union or face being ‘locked out’ of their jobs.

The novel will resonate with many in today’s Ireland – with those locked in bitter disputes and those struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. It may seem an unruly covergence of the past and present; however, Strumpet City is also a book about tenderness, humour and generosity – qualities that in the end help people to overcome their present difficulties. Good literature can help remind us of such things.

Click here to see Literature courses in Ireland.


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