The Hero Brush

Edmund Gordon

  • BuyTransAtlantic by Colum McCann
    Bloomsbury, 298 pp, £18.99, May 2013, ISBN 978 1 4088 2937 0

Colum McCann has described Jim Crace as ‘quite simply, one of the great writers of our time’, Aleksandar Hemon as ‘quite frankly, the greatest writer of our generation’, and Nathan Englander as ‘quite simply, one of the very best we have’. He has called Emma Donoghue ‘one of the great literary ventriloquists’ and John Boyne ‘one of the great craftsmen in contemporary literature’. Gerard Donovan reminds him of ‘other great writers, not least Knut Hamsun, Franz Kafka and … Bernhard Schlink’. McCann is the high priest of high praise, always handy with a blessing. But his easy way with superlatives means that when he wants to pay a special tribute – to suggest that a writer is even better than Nathan Englander – he tends to lapse into mumbo-jumbo. Edna O’Brien is ‘the necessary edge of who we are … a riverrun writer, bringing us back and propelling us forward’. Don DeLillo’s Point Omega is ‘the one that takes the skin away, that sings at the deep raw edge’. I had read dozens of McCann’s blurbs before I’d read any of his novels: I doubted his ability to compose a meaningful sentence. He seems now and then aware of this danger, and has talked about the ‘necessity’ of supplying blurbs: ‘They’re not even designed for readers because I think most people see through the bullshit factor. They are designed more for bookshops and just helping to get the books on the shelf … But again, I understand the necessity.’

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