Comprehensiveness rating: 5 read less
The Emergence of Irish Gothic Fiction examines in great historical and cultural detail the foundations of Irish Gothic literature in the 17th and 18th centuries through the present day. The main argument that Killeen puts forth is that the Irish Gothic has roots in political and cultural divisions opening up within the Irish Anglican community in the 1750s; he sees the Irish Gothic novel as a "fictional instrument of liberal Anglican opinion in a changing political landscape" (12). Killeen thoroughly and comprehensively documents that changing political and social landscape, and gives a full survey of critical opinions relating to Irish Gothic fiction. Killeen is specifically interested in the emergence of the Gothic as a genre in Ireland, but he also offers a comprehensive survey of the critical literature and many references to later works in the genre. Someone working on Bram Stoker, for instance, will not find a specific chapter on Dracula (a later, 19th C text), but they would find references to Stoker as well as crucial information about the critical arguments that help to contextualize work on a writer like Stoker. I will recommend this book to any future student writing on Irish Gothic texts.
Accuracy rating: 5
Killeen's arguments are convincing, and the historical events referenced are accurate. I would not call this an "unbiased" work; Killeen's investment in these arguments about the range and function of Gothic literature in Irish culture is longstanding and deep, and as such, this is often a work immersed in opinion. The book is all the better for Killeen's unique perspective on the critical history, Irish political life, and the development of trends in Irish Studies more generally. It is accurate, but biased in the way that good criticism should always be biased.
Relevance/Longevity rating: 5
This book is a necessary and welcome addition to the study of Irish Gothic literature, and I believe that Killeen's clear, reasoned arguments about the historical contexts of the Irish Gothic will remain relevant into the future. This is a work of literary scholarship, and is not, properly, a textbook, and it is unlikely that there will be any necessary updates to this text in the near future. Some of Killeen's pop cultural references to contemporary films could potentially be updated or expanded as new gothic/horror/monster films and novels enter the culture. The final conclusion, with its reading of the Gothic through the Celtic Tiger and post Tiger years of Irish political life, will likely need expansion in the coming years.
Clarity rating: 5
This book was a joy to read, because Killeen's voice is so clear on the page. The reader feels the hand of a steady guide through the material, and as someone with a passing but far from comprehensive knowledge of Irish Gothic fiction, I learned a great deal about both the history of Ireland in the 18th Century and the critical arguments surrounding Gothic fiction more generally. The clear, jargon-free prose was very welcome. This is an excellent book for scholars at all levels. A clever undergraduate could find a path through this work, but it will be equally valuable to more advanced students and scholars.
Consistency rating: 5
The book is consistently focused on Gothic as a genre, and successfully argues for the inclusion of little known and undervalued works as a part of that tradition. The author's interest in examining both the historical context along with substantial literature review of the existing criticism keeps the tone and purpose of the chapters consistent throughout the book.
Modularity rating: 5
I can easily imagine using individual chapters of this book as secondary critical reading for my graduate students in Irish Studies. This isn't a textbook; it's a very focused work of literary criticism with chapters centered around specific texts and historical circumstances. Individual chapters will be more useful in my classes than the book as a whole, which I would be unlikely to assign unless I was specifically teaching a course on Irish Gothic Fiction.
Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5
The book starts with a comprehensive, well-organized introductory chapter that puts forth the author's thesis and substantial literature review. The individual chapters address the historical roots of the Gothic as a product of 18th C Anglican anxiety; the allegorical and historical treatment of women in Irish culture; the 1641 rebellion and the rise of Catholic "monstrosity" in the Gothic novel; and Thomas Leland's historical romance Longsword. The conclusion proffers a witty and convincing argument about the death of Irish Gothic in the Celtic Tiger years, with (in true Gothic fashion) the re-emergence of Gothic tropes in Irish political culture in the years of austerity that followed. The deep immersion in the cultural history of Gothic fiction is paired in every chapter with contemporary political, cultural or artistic references, and this balancing of the historical with the long view of Irish history and culture from the vantage point of the present moment helps to establish the stakes that make knowing this history of Gothic fiction so necessary. It's very well-organized and clearly written.
Interface rating: 5
I didn't find any significant interface issues, but other than the cover art, this is a book without images, charts or graphs.
Grammatical Errors rating: 5
Free of error, with few exceptions. I found a typo on page 16: "..it becomes clear that the Gothic has always been configured as an impure..." I believe the phrase was meant to be "impure genre", but a word is missing.
Cultural Relevance rating: 5
The work addresses the difficult history of Anglican and Catholic communities in Ireland, and there are arguments made about the representation in Gothic fiction of Catholic "monstrosity". The book, however, takes a scholarly approach to these arguments, and grounds them in their historical and cultural moment. There is nothing here that should be offensive to anyone, Catholic, Protestant or otherwise. The critics whose work Killeen takes to task may find his counter-arguments difficult to swallow, but that's the nature of academic debate. There's nothing intentionally offensive or insensitive here, and Killeen's treatment of Irish national history is well-supported and grounded in the critical literature.
I am very happy to have read this book, as someone who frequently teaches and writes about 20th and 21st C Irish fiction. I do not work specifically in the Gothic genre, but as someone who also works within Irish Studies, I found the author's perspective on many of the critical controversies in our shared field very interesting (and his political arguments in the concluding chapter very well-stated and amusing). I deeply appreciated his willingness to stake a claim in the many critical arguments surrounding Irish Studies and the Gothic in particular, and to support those claims with very precise historical references. There were times when the "literature review" sections of chapters seemed a bit longwinded, but in every case, I was grateful for them, too, because I could see the usefulness of those sections to anyone who is writing on these texts. Killeen is very clear about the space he is carving out for his arguments within the existing canon of Gothic critique, and I will use his work in the future both for the content and as a model of form for my graduate students. This is a smart, thorough, interesting book, and it was a pleasure to read because of the author's firm command of his arguments and because of the clarity of his prose.