Book: The Avenue by James Lawlesscategories: Book, Libraries, Tragedy, Origins, Mystery, Parenting, Drugs, Children, Innocence, Adoption, Fathers and Sons, Loneliness, Suburbia, Suburbs
James Lawlessabout this book: The Provenance of The Avenue
(from a letter to Gabriel Byrne)
My family moved from the Liberties to the suburbs of Walkinstown when I was six so The Avenue is in a way a chronological continuation of Perceiving Oranges and represents my response to the myth of suburbia as a panacea for the ills of society. The story hangs essentially as a picture of suburban degeneration. My family like a lot of others moved to the suburbs for the 'open space and fresh air'(I had asthma as a child). However in moving we unwittingly left behind a secure world with a strong community spirit for an anonymous sprawl where social interaction was at a minimum. The open spaces soon filled in as the Celtic tiger struck; the population increased, emigrants returned, cars multiplied and the former inner-city congestion, from which people had previously fled, was now itself an intrinsic element of a suburban/city commuting lifestyle. All this was progress of course, a new affluence – reverse migration – we even have our own refugees now. But little heed was paid to the social changes that followed in the Tiger's wake: the permanent traffic jams, the noise, the former inner city communities ripped apart to make highways to facilitate the suburban commuters, the two parent incomes, the latch-key children, the new landscape of industrial debris, used condoms, cider bottles, lager cans and of course the lethal drug culture. And all the time the scream was bursting through the spreading graffiti on suburban walls. But the powers that be refused to hear. The underbelly was kept covered of course – after all we are a bashful race. Certain councillors and politicians were paid off. Any sense of the aesthetic was destroyed. We produced wealthy builders and powerful philistines who run the county now. And we were arrogantly told we would never go the way of other countries who were hit by the industrial revolution before us. We would learn from their mistakes. We would learn new ways.
The novel is not all gloom however. Although it may be read as I have said as a picture of suburban degeneration, it is paralleled, despite the calamities, by a story of human regeneration, particularly in the characters of Francis and Michael and even – almost contradictorily – Francis' father (cf. conclusion of novel or last paragraph of synopsis). My intention was to use the avenue as a trawling device to pierce the anonymity of a waste land. I perceive the avenue almost as one would a country village, small inward-looking with its hidden past and secrets, a crucible if you like in which the characters live entrapped lives and as a consequence (consciously or otherwise) are almost incestuously interlinked. Or to put it in the words of Francis' old cottage neighbour, Mrs Dempsey: 'The avenue cared for her own.'
David Marcus thought so highly of The Avenue that he sent it to the late Giles Gordon of Curtis Brown who suggested it would make a good TV drama, so I started writing the script. When I sent part of it to RTE however they felt it would make a better film.
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