A Guest Post by Shauna Gilligan
Today I am very happy to announce that Shauna Gilligan, author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere has honored The Reading Life with a post on Desmond Hogan's landmark first novel, The Ikon Maker. Those new to the work of Desmond Hogan should first read Shauna's introductory post from Day One of Desmond Hogan Week. During the week I will post on a number of his famous short stories and Shauna will return with a post on Hogan's classic novel, The Ikon Maker.
The Irish Quarter Year Two
: A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to June 24
Guest Post by Shauna Gilligan
Desmond Hogan’s The Ikon Maker: A Mother and Son through Themed Lenses
(c) Shauna Gilligan
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to quote from or reproduce part or all of this article.
Based on elements in my paper “The search for a face”: Suicide, emigration and notions of belonging in Desmond Hogan’s The Ikon Maker” presented at Belonging: Cultural Topographies of Identity (UCD 8-9 June 2012), my second blogpost on Desmond Hogan briefly explores how he uses the themes of emigration and suicide to explore a mother-son relationship in his first novel The Ikon Maker.
The Ikon Maker was first published in 1979 to critical acclaim with the highly innovative Irish Writers Co-operative founded by Fred Johnston, Peter Sheridan and Neil Jordan. Along with
in Tunisia, The Ikon Maker was an
early success and hardback editions of both books were published in the . In
1979 The Ikon Maker was a New Fiction
Choice in the UK .
The novel made the front page of the Times
Literary Supplement in January 1981 with a review of Hogan’s dramatization
of the novel. UK
In The Ikon Maker, Hogan tells the story of Susan’s search for her son Diarmaid who has emigrated to
, partly as the result of
the trauma of losing a close friend, Derek, to suicide. As
the novel progresses, Susan comes to acknowledge the complicated friendship
between Diarmaid and Derek and in doing so, comes to a new sense of self (and
sexuality) by reflecting on her relationship with George, her (now dead)
Literary critic George O’Brien in ‘Introduction: Tradition and Transition in Contemporary Irish Fiction,’ described the function of the novel in
“carrying out one of the form’s most significant historical tasks by holding, at a critical angle, a mirror to the nature of society.”
Hogan’s fiction does exactly this. In early reviews, critics claimed that with The Ikon Maker that Hogan “made an auspicious debut in painfully twanging the umbilical cord of a generation” (Kevin O’Connor, Sunday Independent) and “penetrated, with what seems like absolute accuracy, the thought process of a middle-aged woman.” (Kevin Gray, Irish Times)
THE IRISH WRITERS’ CO-OPERATIVE COVER OF THE IKON MAKER (1976)
Susan of The Ikon Maker is symptomatic of the key role of the mother in Hogan’s writing. As a mother, she is, on the surface, an insider: she makes dresses for the wealthy people of the village; goes on dates with the milkman. Yet, it is by association with outsiders – with Derek through suicide, with Diarmaid who disappears – that Susan is seen as an outsider herself. Mrs Conlon, a neighbour of Susan’s who later becomes a good friend, watches Diarmaid out the window at the same time as Susan is watching him. The women mutually observe one another. The experience, we are told, “was embarrassing. They both turned away – and probably both in some way had realised they were looking at a misfit.” (Hogan, 34 – all quotations in this post are from the Faber and Faber 1993 edition).
Later, Susan goes on a picnic with Diarmaid. She decides to wear the same dress she wore on her return visit to
Galway in 1943
with George, thus augmenting her love for
both the (temporary) return of her son and for her new sense of self-as-widow. Hogan
shows the shift from insider to outsider:
“Mrs Conlon could have looked out her window now and deemed both of them misfits.” (Hogan, 50)
Having a son gives Susan social status and a sense of belonging; his departure and subsequent silence takes this away. His brief return serves as a cruel reminder of his absence (to Susan) and of Derek’s absence (to Diarmaid). Throughout Susan’s life, the males around her provide a sense of identity. Choices her husband and son make connect and disconnect the bonds of history to her present. Diarmaid’s departure and lack of communication echoes the time when her husband, George, left for
Chicago (“fed up
with ” (Hogan, 15)),
leaving her pregnant (with Diarmaid). Susan’s thoughts constantly link her past
(George) with her present (Diarmaid) until both disappear and her future as a
woman alone is her present. In doing
so, Hogan’s highlights how history, fate, society and the individual are
inextricably linked. Ireland
As the novel progresses and Diarmaid leaves for
again, Hogan uses staccato sentences to build up Susan’s
emotion, and antithesis where he sets
the moments of Diarmaid’s departure against what she is left with. We can see
Hogan’s poetic patterning of language below where the contrast of kissing ‘slenderly’
with the train leaving brings home both characters’ sense of alienation: England
With forty pounds he went back to
Curlews cried in the bog next to Ballinasloe station.
A taxi man looked harassed – no work maybe.
They kissed – slenderly.
The train left.
She walked away.
Hogan links the two Irelands – that of George (1940s) and that of Diarmaid (1960s) – through Susan’s recurring worry about when Diarmaid will come home and how long he might stay. Her real fear is that her husband’s fate of emigration and death will also be her son’s fate. Because she struggles to pin down an emotional sense of her own past, Susan anchors her sense of personal history and belonging in her understanding of that of
. As she travels through Ireland
she meets Diarmaid’s male and female lovers and many of his friends but she
never finds him. The themes of alienation, emigration and suicide are
well-reflected on the 1993 Faber and Faber edition of the novel: England
THE 1993 COVER OF THE IKON MAKER (FABER AND FABER)
At home in
alone yet with a new sense of self, Susan receives Diarmaid’s postcards and
letters from places further afield than England:
Yugoslavia, . His
last communication with her takes the form of a letter addressed to “Mammy”,
inviting her to join him and his lover Michael, a writer, in Greece . It
is signed with “Please write soon, Love, Diarmaid,” to which Susan – now
alienated from her son – writes back to say she “couldn’t come.” (Hogan, 145). Yugoslavia
Hogan concludes the novel with reference to the lack of communication between them. So much so that Susan seems to become the landscape around her, just as Diarmaid’s friend Derek had done in death. By the end of The Ikon Maker Diarmaid has found himself a new home (
family (Michael). Susan, on the other hand, is alone and bitter in the
landscape to which she belongs. Yugoslavia
In time people ceased asking questions.
They didn’t want to know anymore now.
The idea of a boy in an anorak with a Rolling Stone album under his arm which was once revolutionary was now old-hat.
They didn’t need to know about Diarmaid.
Most knew he didn’t write, and if he wrote it was very infrequently, so with time, as Susan’s spirit grew bleaker and her hair greyer, she became among the fields, the houses, and the lack of Guinness bottles, just another local tragedy. (Hogan, 150).
George O’Brien, George. “Introduction: Tradition and Transition in Contemporary Irish Fiction.” Colby Quarterly, Volume 31, no.1, March 1995, p. 5-22.