Sue Leonard, review of All Names Have Been Changed, in Books Ireland (Summer 2009), p.150.

Source: copied from issue at date.

[...] 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.

Kilroy invents a whole back story for Professor Glynn. She quotes from his novels, discusses his plot lines, and shares with us his reviews. We’re included in the classroom too; she shares a student’s poignant short story of disappointment, and shows us the agonies of reading aloud to an unimpressed audience.

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. The reader senses their dislocation, but we never truly understand quite why they gathered here, thinking of writing as their only option. We never really learn what makes the women tick at at all.

That, though, lies at the heart of this brilliantly conceived novel. Kilroy gives the narration to Declan; the fifth who, though he is as ardent in his admiration of Glynn, is never quite part of the group. Spending the Michaelmas term stalking the others, he finally starts talking to them in January.

Declan is confused by the female race. He watches the quartet’s antics with envy and confusion. “So what’s going on?” he asks, as the women try to protect their disintegrating hero. Kilroy plays around with his confusion, and to great effect. “Women want to talk when you feel least able,” Decian thinks, after being seduced by Antonia. And later: “Women were never happy. They didn’t want you to be happy. They deliberately pushed all your buttons, manipulated you into acting the bollocks, then derived perverse satisfaction out of watching you crack and seeing their blackest suspicions confirmed.”

For all his experience with women, though, Glynn ends up faring even worse than Declan. How much dissolution, debauchery and cruelty does it take to make your disciples doubt and then deflect in disgust? Quite a lot, it’s true, but by the Trinity term all of Glynn’s students have been cured of their earnestness.

There is action outside the gates of Trinity College too; and through Declan’s neighbour, the addict and dealer Giz, we’re given a glimpse of a world even seedier than Professor Glynn’s. There is much more action around Mountjoy Square than Front Square, yet it is the scenes in Trinity that have lingered in my mind. 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.

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