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You can’t put it down

Fintan O’Toole, 18 July 1996

The Fourth Estate 
by Jeffrey Archer.
HarperCollins, 550 pp., £16.99, May 1996, 0 00 225318 6
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Tickle the Public: One Hundred Years of the Popular Press 
by Matthew Engel.
Gollancz, 352 pp., £20, April 1996, 9780575061439
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Newspaper Power: The New National Press in Britain 
by Jeremy Tunstall.
Oxford, 441 pp., £35, March 1996, 0 19 871133 6
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... Lay aside for a moment your self-esteem and imagine that you are Jeffrey Archer. You are now a model citizen of the Post-Modern state of hyper-reality, a figure in whom actuality and invention, public fact and private fantasy, the business of government and the spinning of yarns have become utterly indistinguishable. You have made up key aspects of your own biography and seen them reported as fact in the newspapers ...


Fintan O’Toole: The Case of Darren Graham, 6 September 2007

... On the last Sunday in July, Darren Graham took off his shirt and walked across the pitch to the dressing-room. He had been playing Gaelic football for Lisnaskea Emmets, his local team in County Fermanagh, against a team from nearby Brookeborough, when someone from the opposing team called him a ‘black cunt’. ‘Black’, in this case, was a reference not to the colour of his skin but to his religion ...

The Intrusive Apostrophe

Fintan O’Toole, 23 June 1994

Sean O’Faolain: A Life 
by Maurice Harmon.
Constable, 326 pp., £16.95, May 1994, 0 09 470140 7
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Vive Moi! An Autobiography 
by Sean O’Faolain.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 377 pp., £20, November 1993, 1 85619 376 4
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... When, in 1941, Sean O’Faolain wrote to the Irish Times to protest about the ‘miserable fees’ paid by Irish radio for talks by Irish writers, he inadvertently set in train the most nightmarishly savage satire in that paper’s history. O’Faolain’s letter, and the response to it from the impoverished rump that constituted the Irish intelligentsia, led to the foundation by him of WAAMA, the Writers Artists Actors Musicians Association, a short-lived trade union for workers whose services were not exactly regarded as essential ...

A Singular Territory

Fintan O’Toole, 3 July 1997

... In 1925, Sir Cecil Clementi, the British Governor of Hong Kong, wrote a rapturous ode to the colony at night, evoking the illumined streets, the ships glimmering in the harbour, the threads of light circling the Peak that looms above the city, ‘ending where the roadways touch the mountain-crest’. As soon as he had written the word ‘ending’, however, its utter absurdity struck him: Ending? No! For human aspiration Passes here to starry consummation, Mountain roads into the Milky Way ...

Green Hearts

Anne Enright, 3 August 1995

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef 
by Fintan O’Toole.
Vintage, 292 pp., £6.99, January 1995, 0 09 951451 6
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... I bumped into my brother in the street and we talked about Fintan O’Toole’s book on the beef tribunal. I told him to read it immediately. I myself had stopped both reading about the beef tribunal and eating beef in 1991, after a two-line thing in the Irish Times about cirrhotic calves’ livers being packed by someone, somewhere in Ireland ...

‘Thanks a million, big fella’

Daniel Finn: After Ahern, 31 July 2008

... the tribunal system has often been questioned. It ‘has acted as a shock absorber’, Fintan O’Toole argues. ‘It’s been a way of institutionalising, and to an extent controlling, the way revelations come out. It plays out very, very slowly over time so each individual revelation gets dragged out piecemeal. It’s almost like we’ve ...
A Traitor’s Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan 
by Fintan O’Toole.
Granta, 516 pp., £20, October 1997, 1 86207 026 1
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Richard Brinsley Sheridan: A Life 
by Linda Kelly.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 366 pp., £25, April 1997, 1 85619 207 5
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Sheridan’s Nightingale: The Story of Elizabeth Linley 
by Alan Chedzoy.
Allison and Busby, 322 pp., £15.99, April 1997, 0 7490 0264 6
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... Fintan O’Toole’s publishers announce that Richard Brinsley Sheridan has been generally ill-served by biographers, ‘who rehash the familiar outlines of his story every decade or so without bringing any intelligent new insights to the task’. By contrast, O’Toole has written a ‘gripping, carefully composed exploration of Sheridan’s career ...

A Row of Shaws

Terry Eagleton: That Bastard Shaw, 21 June 2018

Judging Shaw 
by Fintan O’Toole.
Royal Irish Academy, 381 pp., £28, October 2017, 978 1 908997 15 9
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... the minor gentry, Shaw was in his own word a ‘downstart’. In this superbly perceptive study, Fintan O’Toole sees his teetotalism as a reaction to his father’s drinking, just as his manic work rate may have been a riposte to his father’s fecklessness. On one estimate he wrote at least a quarter of a million letters and postcards. Joyce, also ...

No Restraint

John Demos: Chief Much Business, 9 February 2006

White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America 
by Fintan O’Toole.
Faber, 402 pp., £20, August 2005, 0 571 21840 7
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... on either side. This elaborate scene, a virtual apotheosis of cultural boundary-crossing, opens Fintan O’Toole’s White Savage, on the fascinating career of William Johnson in 18th-century British America. Though well-known to scholars, Johnson’s story has not hitherto received the notice it deserves from the general readers who are clearly ...

Ghosts in the Palace

Tom Nairn, 24 April 1997

... has fallen away; today, I doubt whether even the greatest of hams could successfully replace it. Fintan O’Toole posed the right question about the episode in the Irish Times: ‘why, if British identity is so secure, does its pedigree have to be so fantastically exaggerated?’ To compensate for Monarchy-deflation, I’m afraid. ...


Susan McKay: The Irish Border, 30 March 2017

... peace agreements in history. Without it there could have been no Good Friday Agreement.’ As Fintan O’Toole noted, the agreement made Northern Ireland into ‘a kind of mini EU, a polity that runs, not on unilateral self-assertion, but on painful compromise and awkward consensus’. This isn’t Foster’s style. Her election strategy was to ...

Issues of Truth and Invention

Colm Tóibín: Francis Stuart’s wartime broadcasts, 4 January 2001

The Wartime Broadcasts of Francis Stuart 
edited by Brendan Barrington.
Lilliput, 192 pp., £25, September 2000, 1 901866 54 8
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... their house inspired and cheered up. Some of the stories were funny. When Stuart began to talk to Fintan O’Toole about his friendship with the poet Paul Potts, and his admiration for him, Fintan thought he was talking about the dictator Pol Pot. He began to imagine Stuart in Paris befriending the future mass murderer ...

You Have A Mother Don’t You?

Andrew O’Hagan: Cowboy Simplicities, 11 September 2003

Searching for John Ford: A Life 
by Joseph McBride.
Faber, 838 pp., £25, May 2003, 0 571 20075 3
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... the Irish are the Indians to the far west, circling the wagons of imperial civilisation,’ Fintan O’Toole writes in The Lie of the Land: Irish Identities. ‘Once in America, of course, the Irish cease to be the Indians and become the cowboys.’ What Thomson misses when he looks at Ford is the elegiac element in his westerns, the way his static ...

A Cheat, a Sharper and a Swindler

Brian Young: Warren Hastings, 24 May 2001

Dawning of the Raj: The Life and Trials of Warren Hastings 
by Jeremy Bernstein.
Aurum, 319 pp., £19.99, March 2001, 1 85410 753 4
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... it an accident that the managers of the impeachment were both Irishmen? Conor Cruise O’Brien and Fintan O’Toole have argued that it was not; for ‘India’ read ‘Ireland’, and vice versa: both native populations – Hindu or Catholic – were subject to the imperial rapacities of the arrogantly Protestant English. There is something in this, but ...

So much for shame

Colm Tóibín, 10 June 1993

Haughey: His Life and Unlucky Deeds 
by Bruce Arnold.
HarperCollins, 299 pp., £17.50, May 1993, 0 00 255212 4
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... it became a liability. In ‘The Southern Question’, his essay on Haughey’s rhetoric, Fintan O’Toole wrote: ‘Charles Haughey’s career in political speech-making begins by accommodating the traditional rhetoric of Fianna Fail – land, Christian values, nationalism – to the rising demands of consumerism, and ends up using that ...

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