The Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction was edited by Dermot Bolger and published in hardback in 1993. A softback editioned appeared in 1994 which included work by four additional writers, including Colum McCann who had then yet to publish in book form. This edition was published in the USA in 1995 under the title The Vintage Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction. A much expanded edition of the anthology was published in 2000, featuring work by fifteen additional writers and bringing the book up to a size of 792 pages, under the title The New Picador book of Contemporary Irish Fiction.
In the original introduction Bolger wrote “I have attempted the – perhaps impossible – task of photographing a moving object, of trying to present a generation which is still in the process of forming itself; a new wave of younger Irish writers whose most remarkable characteristic is to share almost nothing in common except originality.”
Although the anthology includes work by Samuel Beckett, Francis Stuart, Mary Lavin and other great writers from that generation, the focus was on emerging writers and therefore the editor only used work which had been first published within the previous twenty-five years. He arranged the material not by the age of the authors but by the historical period in which the fiction was set so that one had the constant juxtaposition of different generations exploring the same era.
This anthology is now out of print.
"Like all the best anthologies this is not just a selection but a cumulative argument on behalf of a cause ... Bolger is the ideal editor ... angry and authoritative, dragging Beckett into the company of 20-year-old disciples ... and generally unshackling his contemporaries (and us readers) from misplaced expectations." -Observer
“Bolger shows impeccable taste... This is a shiny modern European literature, as relevant as anything currently being written in the English language, and Bolger’s collection is a necessary confirmation of its vibrancy.” – Nick Hornby, Sunday Times
“Here, at last, is a book that I can put into the hands of naive Americans knowing that after five hundred odd pages they will understand that on the island of Ireland there live both men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, Nationalists and Unionists, Communists and Fascists, people who believe that they are Irish and people who believe that they are English... This is the message of this marvellous collection.” - Carlo Gebler, Sunday Telegraph
“Dermot Bolger's introduction to the expanded second edition of The New Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction is down-to-earth, jaunty and ebullient. With pride and wonder he writes, "The scope and achievement of this fiction is remarkable if you take into consideration that the combined population of Ireland-- North and South--is approximately half that of London." He has little time for concepts of an oppressed Ireland and isolated emigrants, believing that the younger generation are as at home in New York as in Cork, and is sceptical of the tag "postcolonial literature". "Almost three-quarters of a century has passed since independence ... it is simply not possible to allow phrase like "postcolonial literature" still to wander about like a decomposing chicken in search of its head, and to have it foisted upon the backs of younger writers". Bolger takes the risk of arranging the volume in order of the period in which the piece of writing is set, which makes for some odd juxtapositions, like John McGahern's work, born in 1935, next to a short story by Bridget O'Connor, born in 1961, but it also means that all the novices don't hang off the end of a very fat book.
Bolger includes 17 novel extracts, arguing that achievements in the novel genre have surpassed those of the short story, often regarded as Ireland's traditional form. One of the most impressive novel extracts must be "Proxopera", by Benedict Kiely, first published in 1977. The pacy and assured tone belies the moral outrage of the narrator, a respected local Ulster man, forced to carry a bomb in his car while his family is held hostage. "In my own town, dear God, battledress and camouflage in my own town. Could I tell him that time is ticking away? ... (that) this is an historic moment and I was teacher of history and Latin and English Literature and time is ticking away." Both powerful and formally innovative, Kiely's fragmented tragicomic narrative suits perfectly the chaotically violent environment.
Bolger makes the interesting point that women writers are debuting earlier than in previous generations. He does well to include Mary Dorcey's incisive "The Husband", which tells of the painful bewilderment of a husband whose wife leaves him for another woman. Bolger also introduces one of the funniest and punchiest new voices, Blanaid McKinney, whose layered, long story, peppered with electric one-liners, tells of two dissimilar Irish louses travelling across America. Another writer to watch is Michael O'Conghaile, translated here from the Irish for the first time. Exquisitely restrained and lyrically lean, "Father" tells the story of a young man coming out to his dad. He searches for the word, "a word there wasn't even a word for in Irish, not easy to find anyway..."
Gentle humour undercuts the tension effectively, and the translation retains some of the rhythms of the Gaelic which makes the setting more richly evocative. Both Toibin and he pay tribute to Maeve Brennan, 1916-1993, who wrote for "The New Yorker" for 20 years, lived as a bag-lady in the magazine's lavatories, suffered from mental illness and died unrecognised in Ireland. Despite an editorial error of judgement with the inclusion of a slice of unreconstructed romance by Niall Williams, who sells as well as ever, both in Ireland and the United States, Bolger's is an impressive volume which offers the cutting edge of Irish fiction. -Cherry Smyth, Amazon.co.uk Review