Claire Kilroy

1973- ; b. Dublin; ed. TCD (English BA) and afterwards worked as film-editor on Ballykissangel at RTÉ, 1996-99; subscribed to Creative Writing programme at Oscar Wilde Writers' Centre, TCD, 2000; winner of Arts Council Literature Award, 2002; issued of All Summer (2003), a novel concerning the participation of Anna Hunt, the amnesiac narrator, in a major art theft; winner of the Rooney Prize, and shortlisted for Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award [Listowel Writers’ Week], 2004;

issued Tenderwire (2006), a thriller set in New York and narrated by Eva Tyne who finds herself in possession of a possible Stradavarius and encounters an ecstatically gifted young violinist; shortlisted for the 2007 Irish novel of the Year as well as the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award; issued All Names Have Been Changed (2009), set in 1980s Dublin, where a group of writing students is led into dark territory under the guiding hand of the mysterious Professor Glynn;

issued The Devil I Know, a big-house novel set in the Celtic Tiger with Tristram St. Lawrence, the well-bred but clueless scion of Howth Castle as its central character; Kilroy she lives in Dublin.

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  • All Summer (London: Faber & Faber 2003), 224pp.
  • Tenderwire (London: Faber & Faber 2006), 272pp. [see extract].
  • All Names Have Been Changed (London: Faber & Faber 2009), 271pp.
  • The Devil I Know (London: Faber & Faber 2012), 361pp.
Journalism (incls.)
  • review of Xiaolu Guo, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers [novel] , in The Irish Times (3 March 2007), Weekend, p.13.
  • ‘The Music of Everywhere’, [extract from Tenderwire], in The Irish Book Review (Summer 2006), pp.34-35 [see extract].
  • ‘The thin line between hatred and love, madness and brilliance’, review of Afterlife by Sean O'Brien, in The Irish Times (8 Aug. 2009), Weekend, p.11 [see extract].
  • review of Tristran Garcia, Hate: A Romance, in The Irish Times (12 Feb. 2011), Weekend, p.13 [‘What a strange and haunting novel’].
  • [...]
  • review of The Temporary Gentleman, in The Guardian ([Sat.] 29 March 2014) [see under Barry, supra].
  • review of Milkman, by Anna Burns, in The Guardian (31 May 2018) [available online].

[ Claire Kilroy’s numerous reviews for The Guardian as list at that newspaper - online; accessed 02.10.2023. See for instance her review of The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry in the Guardian (29 March 2014 - as attached.

Other Irish writers reviewed incl. Ann Burns (May 2018), Dan Sheehan (Feb. 2018), Sally Rooney (June 2007), Mary Morrissey (April 2016), Colm Tóibín (March 2016) - and an article of Sept. 2012 about her own experience of ante-natal depression. ]

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Katie Donovan, ‘Wings of Wood and Wire’, review of Tenderwire, in The Irish Book Review (Summer 2006, pp.36-27 [‘clearly the twin of its forerunner ... adept at teasing and feinting her way through fast-paced narrative ... can also deliver beautiful prose’]. See also under Commentary, infra.

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John Kenny, reviewing All Summer (2003), in The Irish Times (10 May 2003), Weekend, p.10: ‘Kilroy’s version of the painting-novel is potentially tired; many of her passages seem to echo the loci classici of John Banville’s Frames Trilogy [...] It is a testimony to [her] talents, therefore, that All Summer feels extraordinary. The material and the treatment may not be especially memorable, but the precision of the mood, the atmosphere [...] is rare in Irish fiction. [...] ineffably ... gives a palpable air to the world of her story ... unusual phenomenon: a novelist who knows the occult powers of descriptive language].’

[Shirley Kelly,] interview with Claire Kilroy, in Books Ireland (Summer 2009) - quotes Kilroy: ‘I’ve been writing seriously for about ten years now [...] But I see this as a fifty- or sixty-year job. It could take that long to come up with just one really good novel.’ Remarks that studying English at Trinity was about ‘coming to terms with the canon’ and that taking a job as a film editor on Ballykissangel was a crash course in narrative. ‘On Ballykissangel I saw how things were juggled around until the story worked and I learned about the fluidity of narrative, like sometimes it’s best if the story starts at the end.’ On leaving Ballykissangel: ‘I was twenty-five and I was working alone on this novel, without any idea if it was worthwhile. You’re in the dark, wondering if you’re deluded about your own talent. I found it really difficult. You wake up alone and you have to jolly yourself along but you’re beset by these horrible doubts and you’re trying to escape from it all the time. I would have abandoned it because it was so hard, but 1 had cornered myself by leaving Ballykissangel and I just couldn’t admit defeat.’ On Creative Writing at TCD: ‘That worked for me because it took me out of my isolation and suddenly I was getting plenty of feedback about my novel. And of course it gives a structure to your writing time; you’re expected to produce. I started out with a novel that wasn’t good, and with the feedback from the group, and just working and reworking it, it eventually came good.’

Shirley Kelly, (interview with Claire Kilroy, 2009) - cont. Quotes,: ‘While I was an undergraduate at Trinity I did a workshop with Michael Longley, which I found really useful, and then the MA, and so the setting was there for me to draw on. In the book [All Names have been Changed], Glynn asks the group “’Why do you need me?” and of course the answer is they don’t need him at all. They need each other, for the feedback, the criticism, the encouragement, the confidence that comes from shared endeavour.’ On the 1980s: ‘It was a time of great freedom [...] because you really had nothing to lose. It was also an excellent time for the Irish novel; Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Patrick McCabe, Dermot Bolger, Hugo Harnilton, Roddy Doyle, they all came out of that era. Also I couldn’t really make sense of the boom that followed, so I could hardly write about it.’ Marginalised? ‘Yes, and it was upsetting to be left behind by my whole country, a country I knew had become an anomaly. Many of the people I was at college with, the class Of ’95, got well-paid jobs, bought new cars and took out huge mortgages. I had to part ways with that group because it was all very alien to me. I think people were embarrassed for me, living through a boom and not reaping any obvious dividends. Through writing I’ve found a new peer group, and now of course the boom is over; everything’s shifted again.’ Further: ‘There’s a great insecurity to this life I’ve chosen for myself, not just financially, though it has been very strenuous financially, but also because you never know if you’ve got another novel in you, let alone a good novel. It’s a fearful and daunting experience to sit down at your desk and not know if anything will happen. But you have to sit down and wonder and be open to happy accidents because you never know when that great idea will come. Every time I meet Anne Enright she tells me to “Stay in the game”. So that’s the plan. To stay in the game.’ (p.135.)

Sue Leonard, review of All Names Have Been Changed, in Books Ireland (Summer 2009): ‘[...] Professor Glynn hadn’t written a novel in years. And the problem, we’re told, in All Names Changed, is that he kept writing writers’ novels, when readers’ novels was what were wanted. Writers will, surely, adore Claire Kilroy’s third novel about the drink-sodden professor and his five acolytes. Set in Trinity College in the eighties, it reflects all a writer’s insecurities, all the egotism, doubt and fear of writer’s block. The Irish reader will surely love trying to suss out who Kilroy’s character was based on, and will revel in revisiting old haunts. [...] The novel opens as the students sit in their attic lecture room waiting for the great writer to appear. They’ve waited in vain for three weeks now, and as they listen in silence as their hero ascends the stairs, the tension is palpable. /They’re a disparate group. There’s Antonia, the Anglo-Irish blonde of indeterminate years, who has been through a marriage. There’s Faye, who, it is rumoured, is beaten by her husband. There’s white faced Aisling, who hangs on the edge of despair, and there’s the beautiful peacemaker Guinevere. The four women idolise Glynn. They shadow him as if they’ll learn writing by osmosis. [...] This was a quieter offering than Kilroy’s last novel, the spirited Tenderwire; little happens. This won’t bother fellow writers. Claire’s ease with language, and clearness with construction show her to an outstanding novelist. I adored this book from that breathless beginning to the measured ending. But will it appeal to readers round the globe? Or has Kilroy aped her protagonist, and written a writers’ rather than a readers’ novel? Time will tell.’ (p.150; for longer extract, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, attached.]

‘Colin Greenland: ‘[...] a novel steeped in the Celtic literary tradition’, review of All Names Have Been Changed, in The Guardian (8 August 2009). [...] All Summer and Tenderwire, Claire Kilroy’s first two novels, were thrillers, whatever else they were: driven by plot, by mysteries to be solved, treasures to be won. Anyone coming to All Names Have Been Changed in the hope of something similar may be nonplussed. It seems perhaps a shadow novel in Kilroy’s career: an obligatory plunge back into her past, both personal (born in Dublin in 1973, she studied creative writing at Trinity in 1999) and artistically, as an inheritor of the mantle of the Irish literary tradition; and a thick, smothering sort of mantle it seems to be. / Every chapter title is a quotation from Irish literature or song, from Maria Edgeworth to John Banville, from “Molly Malone” to the Pogues, so we know what a crowd Kilroy feels craning over her shoulders. The story itself isn’t 14 pages old before Joyce and Beckett show up, with Wilde close behind. When he does finally materialise, P. J. Glynn is not so much Godot as O’God: the biggest, fattest, most arrogant, truculent, lachrymose, lecherous, bibulous, cowardly bully ever to waltz the Hibernian muse through the vomit and broken glass of Nighttown. [...] It’s also suspense, of a kind. Clarity postponed gains the force of revelation. / In any case, this is a book about emotions rather than events. [.., &c.; for full text, see RICORSO, Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, attached.]

Christina Hunt Mahony, ‘The Big Bust, Big House and Bills’, review of The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy, in The Irish Times (18 Aug. 2012), Weekend - Books: ‘[...] The protagonist and narrator of The Devil I Know is Tristram St Lawrence, 13th Earl of Howth. In his educated but clueless state, Tristram owes more than a little, including his register, to Charles Hythloday in his parallel Killiney keep in Paul Murray’s An Evening of Long Goodbyes. There is a Faustian element to Tristram’s dilemma though. Due to the death of a dubious namesake, our hero had long since been written off by all in Howth. He has peculiarly cold hands, noted regularly during all the hearty handshaking going on as deal after deal closes. St Lawrence also boasts something of an ability to speak in tongues which others find “uncanny” – a word used throughout. [...] Unlike Ann Enright’s recent The Forgotten Waltz, which subordinated its wry humour to a sustained minor key, Kilroy opts for a more broadly comic note. The result will be even wider popular appeal, but her choice of an irrelevant member of the remnants of Anglo-Ireland as her narrator is one of the pieces within this fiction that seems a bad fit. Because he’s posh, many of those whom Tristram encounters think he is gay. The author, as though responding, gives him an underdeveloped love affair with Dessie the builder’s wife. Otherwise the romance is little explored and Edel Hickey remains not much more than the receding bow on her halter top as she wanders through the rhododendrons. And although we can certainly pin our current tragedy on Anglo Irish Bank, it is one for which the actual Anglo-Irish can’t be blamed. [...]’ (p.3; for full text, see RICORSO, Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, attached.)

James Doyle, review of The Devil I Know, in Bookmunch [blog] (1 Aug 2012): ‘Like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Claire Kilroy’s The Devil I Know is set around “Howth Castle & Environs”. Tristram St Lawrence is the “young master” of the Castle, the disreputable son who has escaped Dublin to work as a translator for the mysterious Monsieur Deauville. In Dublin it is believed that Tristram is dead until a plane crash lands him back in Dublin, back in the Castle and working as a property speculator in the Ireland of the Celtic Tiger. / Unlike the spiritual paralysis of Joyce’s Dublin with its humble (and guilty) pleasures this is a Dublin that delights in financial extravagance, where opulence is now available to all. The new found wealth comes at a price, crushing individuality: “Money kills the imagination. It makes us want the same thing.” [...] Kilroy’s language is as freely associative as Joyce’s, drawing on the same literary and cultural traditions but with a manic zip that plays with the double meaning of “debt” (a financial obligation and a moral duty: “A debt must be settled. That is the nature of a debt”.) The novel’s plot echoes that of the movie Angel Heart (starring Mickey Rourke and Robert de Niro, though anyone who saw it as a teenage boy will mainly remember Lisa Bonet) with its noirish notions of pacts, morality and the sale of a soul. / The Devil I Knowis a wonderful novel, its inventive, satirical depiction of Irish society (its politics, fallen morality and mores), and a delight in how gloriously deep the corruption runs that Flann O’Brien would have recognised. It is written with notes of farce and pantomime, its characters are touched with the grotesque, but only through such exaggerations can Kilroy hope to portray the reality of a country gone mad with greed. What fiction could ever match the real story of Sean Quinn who managed to gamble a small remote farm into a billion-pound property empire spanning the world, the bankrupt who was once Ireland’s richest man?’ (See Bookmunch - online; accessed 01.09.2023.)

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The Music of Everywhere’, [extract from Tenderwire], in The Irish Book Review (Summer 2006), pp.34-35: ‘[...] About three floors up, we heard the strains of the music emanating from the above. We kept climbing, but climbing quietly, until we stopped altogether on the final flight to listen. [...] Claude didn’t sound every note. He must’ve beer playing from memory. There is an unguarded quality ir musicians unaware of listening ears. Intimate, hearing the piece like that, played for no one, played from far away. the sound escaping onto a stairwell presumed empty Sheherazade spun out her tales over a thousand arc one Arabian nights. Her tales were her demand for life: I deserve to live so long as I can unravel such intrigue into the world. Do not kill me now. Do not strangle me at dawn. / I wondered if that trapped animal of a boy had left off rocking to listen. That pitiful youth, did he understand rapture? There was a terrible pain across my chest. It was the old pain, the old loss. This paper room at the top of the stair, in which, yesterday, my father had been and now this unassuming beauty welling out of it, unbidden. Sunlight was spilling through the glass door onto the landing; the dust motes might have been there since time began. It was all immensely delicate and just beyond my reach. There were pockets of wonder all over the earth, I knew, like wild animals glades, and I happened upon them now [34] and then. Less so in America, because it was not my home, but there were pockets in America, too, and I prized them all the more for their rarity. Once I blundered into them, the wonder took flight; it evaporated like dew. It was a matter of not blundering into them, of letting them be, of trying to live on the bringk of them without intruding. I couldn’t ask much of them because they wouldn’t withstand it. / Once I entered the atelier, as I very soon would, the grace would evanesce [...]’ (p.34-25.) [See plot summary in Notes, infra.]

The thin line between hatred and love, madness and brilliance’, review of Sean O'Brien, Afterlife, in The Irish Times (8 Aug. 2009), Weekend: ‘Literary jealousy has been written about before, but it is almost always depicted as a male phenomenon. the threat that female brilliance poses to the alpha male's ego - as happened in real life with another O'Brien - Edna - is not a theme that has been much explored in fiction to date. Sean O'Brien does so with chilling results. [...] If the novel has a flaw, it is that the revenge could have been better choreographed.’ [In it, the mind of the best writer in a reclusive group, a woman, is tipped into schizophrenia when the hosts at a party spike the guests' drinks with acid.]. (p.11.)

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All Summer (2003): Anna Hunt is uhas lost her memory and is on the run. From who and what she is unsure, but trapped in the present she seems certain of only one thing - she is somehow linked to the stolen painting currently being restored in the National Gallery. In a wonderfully unsettling first novel, Claire Kilroy manages to combine beautiful, poetic prose with the menacing atmosphere of a thriller as she explores themes of memory, violence, art and escape. (See Faber & Faber website; accessed 25.04.2009.)

Tenderwire (2006), an Irish violinist living and working in New York, collapses after her solo debut and is rushed to hospital. Still dazed after the incident, she finds herself embarked on a chaotic and dangerous odyssey. Leaving her steady partner, she falls for a mysterious man, and shortly thereafter comes across a rare violin of dubious provenance, for which she must raise the required payment in cash in less than a week. But, haunted by the ghost of her father, racked with jealousy, and unsure whom she can trust around her, Eva soon finds herself playing a desperate psychological game as her desires threaten to destroy her. (See Faber & Faber website; accessed 25.04.2009.)

All Names have Been Changed (2009): Set in Dublin of the mid-1980s gripped by a heroin epidemic, All Names Have Been Changed tells the story of a small group of mature students on a writing course at Trinity who become dangerously obsessed with their tutor, a notorious writer [Glynn], exploring the shifting group dynamic as events spiral ever further out of control. (See COPAC notice; accessed 05.08.2009.)

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