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John Broderick: ‘a fugitive from a superior civilisation’

The Athlone writer John Broderick is never celebrated in Ireland to the extent that his literary talents deserve. It is true that his work is not of a uniformly high quality, but when he wrote well, he was extremely good, as good as any writer of his generation. However, when he was bad, it could be excruciating, with authorial interventions and emotive outbursts against his pet hates commonplace.He was someone who suffered inordinately during his early years as a result of the premature death of his father and the remarriage of his mother to the manager of the successful family bakery, Paddy Flynn. Being a man of independent wealth meant that Broderick could indulge his literary vocation without worrying unduly whether he was successful or not.He was a voracious reader and cited French writers as among his favourites, chief among them Honoré de Balzac and François Mauriac. In fact, he admitted on numerous occasions that Mauriac was the only influence of which he was aware. Undoubtedly a commitment to Catholicism was a shared preoccupation, but so too was their acute sense of place, which resulted in the graphic descriptions of the Landes district near Bordeaux for which the Nobel laureate is rightly renowned, and the uncannily accurate rendering of the topography of Westmeath and Roscommon by Broderick in some of his work, The Fugitives (1962) being a prime example.

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