Ireland's New Losers: Contemporary Irish Fiction and the Ethos of Failure
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The figure of the “loser” has become something of a staple in recent Irish fiction, especially fiction dealing with the major sociocultural transformations and crises that have taken place in Ireland in the last quarter century—namely, the Celtic Tiger, the economic crash, the clerical abuse crisis, and the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This dissertation examines why. In reading recent novels by Donal Ryan, Peter Cunningham, Paul Murray, Claire Kilroy, Roddy Doyle, John Boyne, Paul McVeigh, and Garbhan Downey, I contend that the loser figure proves particularly valuable in assessing the difficulties of self-evaluation and self-definition within the transitioning social matrix of contemporary Ireland.Following an introduction in which I define “loserdom” and establish the social, national, and gendered contexts in which the loser figure typically operates, I offer four chapters, each examining a specific sociocultural transformation. In the first two chapters, I analyse the economic boom and bust, respectively, and consider the ways in which Irish novelists use the loser to respond to Irish society’s problematic embrace of neoliberal ideologies as well as to challenge the narratives of blame that circulated after the economic downturn. In the later chapters, I explore Ireland’s clerical abuse crisis and the post-conflict period in Northern Ireland, respectively. In the first case, I argue that novelists deploy loser characters as a way of emphasizing the degradation of Irish society resulting from the abuse scandal and as a means of indicting the nation’s culture of inaction and uncritical deference to the Church. Finally, I contend that novelists dealing with the post-conflict North deploy the loser figure as a means of representing productive dissidence. The losers in these texts, I suggest, embody a potential alternative to identities rooted in those tribal narratives of ethnic pride that perpetually threaten to undermine an already tentative peace in Northern Ireland. Taken together, these chapters explore the various ways in which Irish fiction imagines contemporary Ireland as defined by an ethos of failure.