“A city should ignore you, like London did, which gave you the English cold shoulder. A city should be impersonal, but Dublin was full of warm promises, like the worse kind of woman.” – Dead as Doornails
Dead as Doornails by Anthony Cronin is an insight into the lives of Irish ‘literary men’ in Dublin during the fifties and sixties. As a member of the bohemian scene that emerged in the city, mostly in and around a pub called McDaid’s near Grafton Street, Cronin offers unique portraits of writers such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Brian O’Nolan.
Dead as Doornails is also a fascinating historical account of Ireland at the time. Dublin was a small city, a place where people were divided into two categories: those who were religious teetollers or those who were artists and fond of a drop. Cronin spares the readers no details concerning the crippling alcoholism that many creatives spiralled into. In typical Irish fashion he describes tragic situations with great comic wit. However, the reader sometimes wonders whether he was as intimate with the characters he describes as he sometimes claims to be.
I read Dead as Doornails in my home town of Brussels. I was fortunate enough to have some time off and spent a few days in the city visiting old haunts and indulging in culinary delights. My love for the place has been kindled into a bonfire of emotion. Today I had lunch in Claire Fontaine, a tiny épicerie off Place du Sablon. They make decadent sandwiches on rustic bread, but I selected to have the delicious courgette and broccoli soup. If you’re feeling in need of something sweet afterwards, cross the square and have a cake in Wittamer, a Brussels institution that never fails to disappoint (except perhaps one’s wallet).