Blackbird Book Club: Glenn Patterson

Watch video of the acclaimed author discussing the novel as form and visits to Hiroshima

Our last blackbird of the season was Glenn Patterson. We were all tempted to paraphrase Shakespeare’s famous encomium on Cleopatra, 'age cannot wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety’. For it is hard to believe that Glenn was born in 1961.

He is a writer whose eternal youthfulness enables him to offer a puckish humour. Unlike his ‘hero’ Ike in The Third Party, there is nothing pompous or overweening about him.

But beneath his charming lightness of touch, Patterson is a writer of great seriousness. This was evident from the outset with HIS impressive debut novel, Burning Your Own (1988).

This is no populist sensationalisation of The Troubles, but a story of great integrity and honesty, which asks hard questions about regional and national identity, probes ‘collective fictions’.

Patterson is also one of our best urban writers. He is able to catch – in the way that Louis MacNeice could – the changing, evanescent character of the city.

We can see this with particular effect in his latest novel, The Third Party, where the elusive, almost haunting quality of the romance mirrors the shifting, transitory nature of the urban world.

And like MacNeice, Patterson counterpoints this ever-changing world with the fixed memorialised world of history itself.

While the story is set in Japan, many of its concerns have roots in Northern Ireland. The tension between the modern and the traditional, between permanence and change are, of course, universal themes, classical even.

Glenn’s consciousness of history takes a different turn in works like The International (1999), Number 5 (2003) and Once Upon a Hill (2008), where his enterprise is rather a kind of recovery of history, a recuperation of a lost world.

What better metaphor than a house where different people live for periods of time, in a city. Each dweller, as it were, erases the one who has gone before – all are subject to movement, to change. So, writing becomes a way of saluting ordinary people who otherwise would just disappear into time.

Glenn’s own self-deprecation and sense of himself as a very ordinary person surely is of great assistance in enabling his imaginative identification with the ordinary, modest denizens of his cities. And allows him to travel with them on their own search for meaning between history and a shifting, dissolving, but often exciting, even magical, present. It was a pleasure to have him with us.

Watch video of previous Blackbird Book Club authors, including Malachi O'Doherty, Sinead Morrissey, Andrew Pepper and Ciaran Carson.