Episode 1: Invisible City

In episode 1 of the gorse podcast, we talk to Irish short story writer and essayist Rob Doyle about his novel, Here Are the Young Men (Lilliput Press). Taking its name from a Joy Division track the novel is a visceral coming of age story depicting a darker side of Dublin. Talking to the Irish Times, Rob described his “strong urge to write about atrocity porn, if you want to call it that; growing up in a culture where you’re assaulted by images of violence.” It’s incendiary stuff, steeped in the literary nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis, JG Ballard, and, of course, Michel Houellebecq, subject of Rob’s essay for gorse no. 1.

One of the other great characters is of course Dublin itself. Matthew says, ‘This was a very Georgian part of Dublin I had been led to believe, though I had no real idea of what that meant, nor did I care.’ The Dublin you portray in Here Are the Young Men is the ‘grimy fringes of the city,’ the ‘vomit-splattered streets of Temple Bar,’ a Dublin of industrial estates. It’s almost an invisible city, isn’t it? Certainly one that isn’t portrayed much in Irish literature. What drew you to this side of the city? Is that the reality?

I’m really glad you asked that question because I think that is one of the things that right from the first draft I was proud of in the novel was that it does give reality, it gives literary form to this part of Dublin which was always extremely real and relevant to me but, as you say, doesn’t really get represented in the fiction, or even in the cinema or anything like that, or the art that comes out of Ireland or comes out of Dublin. I’m sure there are a couple of exceptions but I never really knew about them. But I’ve always been drawn to, as you say, the kind of grimy fringes, the industrial estates. I’m from Crumlin, a very dreary kind of suburb in the south of Dublin. And when I was a teenager and older I had worked in a series of jobs in Ballymount industrial estate, if you know where that is, and the surroundings. It’s an amazing place, it’s a sprawl of kind of desolate waste land, it’s like something from Tarkovsky. And I think I always knew, getting stoned in these places and looking around them, and the deserted beaches of Dublin, I always knew I’d be wanting to write about these kind if places someday. I spent so much of my youth attracted to places like that, and I still am. I’ve lived in all sorts of cities at this stage and all sorts of towns. Invariably when I go there I spend hours and hours just walking, drifting through the city. I’m always drawn to these derelict, overgrown industrial or blank spaces and overpasses and stuff. I mean, J.G. Ballard made his artistic life in aestheticising and mythologising all of these places so there are precursors.

There’s a great story I remember reading, if you know Blixa Bargeld who was the guitarist in the Bad Seeds and he had his own band [Einstürzende] Neubauten: when he was a young, angry punk living in Berlin he went into a library one day and listened to a record on headphones of African field recordings some researcher had gone out and recorded, and he said he had a kind of crisis: ‘What’s my field music?’ What’s my folk music?’ So the next day he took a crappy tape recorder and walked out onto the Autobahn on the fringes of the city and he walked up under a underpass, the cars zooming below, and he began to bang a brick against the side of the underpass and he was screaming his head off and recording this. And that became the first Einstürzende Neubauten track. It’s such a beautiful story, because if it’s all you’ve got you may as well try to imbue your landscape with some kind of mythic grandeur, some kind of mythological dimension, even if it’s industrial estates of South Dublin, even if it’s Bluebell’s abandoned pitch and putt courses, or whatever places, the canal down by where we used to get drunk when we were teenagers. I think one of of the functions, or one of values I should say, of writing for me is that it gives you the possibility to imbue the most overlooked places with mythic resonance. I like to think that the novel and some of the other fictions I have written are an attempt in that direction.


Music courtesy of the Free Music Archive:
Johnny_Ripper – ‘Watashi’
Monster Rally – ‘Sun Bum’
Owlface – ‘Goose Woman’
The Fucked Up Beat – ‘Schizogeography/ in the green automobile which I have invented imagined and envisioned on the roads of our metropolis’
C. Scott – ‘Belview’
The Fucked Up Beat – ‘Disaster porn. the nihilist myth of collapse’
Lee Rosevere – ‘Eileen’
J. Butler – ‘Sundown’
Johnny_Ripper – ‘Astronaut’