The Possibilities of Shame in Dermot Bolger's Tanglewood

in Critical Survey

Dermot Bolger’s 2015 novel Tanglewood is one of a raft of literary responses to the demise of Ireland’s recent economic ‘miracle’, the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’. Bolger’s narrative is deeply critical of the corrupted morality that characterised facets of the property ‘boom’, a corner of the Irish economy that underlay such a significant part of the economic buoyancy of the country. Consequently, Bolger mobilises shame as one part of his critical armoury, and in so doing he resurrects a familiar affect in the Irish context. However, Bolger’s use of shame, and his suggestion that those who benefited most lavishly during Ireland’s Celtic Tiger period should be shamed, and feel ashamed, are deeply conservative and self-defeating ways of confronting the aftermath of the economic recession in Ireland. As we note, Bolger’s version of shame causes little more than personal isolation and familial fracture, and lacks any potential to partake of what we shall term ‘a revolutionary politics of shame’.