Bibliofemme Bookclub An Irish Bookclub

January 10, 2012

Fillums by Hugh Leonard

Filed under: Bookclub Books,Irish — The DJ @ 3:07 pm
Fillums Book Cover Fillums
Hugh Leonard
General Fiction, Irish
Methuen Pub Limited

 Meeting: Wednesday 23rd June 2004

His newspaper columns and literary output hint that Hugh Leonard, real and imaginary, is an avuncular raconteur. His stories of people and places, of secrets and rites of passage happen in small Irish towns or anonymous Dublin suburbs. ‘Fillums’ begins, handily enough, with a trailer. In it, an aging playwright worried about his literary reputation asks the young narrator to record the details of his life. What follows is a collection of tales centred around an area of south county Dublin called Drane (a thinly-disguised version of Leonard’s native Dalkey) during the Emergency of the 1940s.

The ludicrously named Perry Perry and his wife Babs move to Drane and quickly regret it. It’s a boring place where the only diversions are being nosy and going to the local ‘picturehouse’ to see films. The latter is run by Dermo Grace, a likeable chancer, who also runs a secret film society to show ‘banned’ films. Of course we’re not talking porn here, but films that comprised the Hollywood view of the war or were vaguely risqué. Leonard makes much of the Hayes production code and its character stereotyping, something he manages to avoid himself. Instead he wheels on (and off) a series of memorable characters and different stories.

The book has a chatty, conversational tone. Leonard urges the reader to pull up a chair and listen to his entertaining yarns. That the characters flit in and out of the pages does and doesn’t work. Some of the fleeting glimpses are enough, but several of the book’s best creations disappear after just a chapter. In ‘Breezy’, two brothers are at odds over a woman with a flyaway skirt, ‘The Good German’ introduces us to Hansy Mueller who has more than one secret to hide while ‘The Standing Ovations’ brilliantly satirises the politics of amateur dramatic societies. One of the book’s best episodes is ‘The Canon’s Bewk’ about a secret ledger filled with the locals’ secrets as told to the Canon in the confessional.

At a guess there is more than a slight chunk of autobiography here and real people like actors Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards, and a cantankerous Paddy Kavanagh pass through the pages. In a dreary suburb in a time of ration, the cinema was very much the focus of activity and as Perry pronounces: “Picturehouses give people a spare life to live in case the one they have turns out to be a dud”. While the backdrop might be Hollywood films, the stories are about people’s lives and wartime shenanigans in a small town.

More anthology than novel, ‘Fillums’ is enjoyable for many reasons, not least for Leonard’s wonderful language and abundant colloquialisms. A treat – perfect fireside nostalgia for winter nights. The DJ 3/5

Score awarded by Bibliofemme: 3.3 out of 5

What the other femmes had to say
The Historian “This is quite an odd book but I liked it far more than I thought I would. I enjoyed Leonard’s wit, his use of near-lost Irish colloquialisms, the wandering of real life characters through the book (particularly the idea of “Brendan Behan stalking Patrick Kavanagh around Parson’s bookshop on Baggot Street Bridge”) and Perry’s constant parallels between ‘fillums’ and his real life in Drane.” 4/5

The Gardener “I had a love-hate relationship with this book. By the end of it, I had finally discovered that I had to be in the right mood in order to read it. His stories were fascinating and I loved all of the coloquilisms, but if I wasn’t in the mood to have my ear burned off about nothing, I could barely get through two pages. If the sun was shining and I hadn’t a care in the world, well then, Leonard could entertain away.” 3/5

The Techie “Loved the language initially but eventually it grated on my nerves. Some really amusing little anecdotes tied up in it”. 3/5

The Connoisseur I had a mostly favourable reaction to reading ‘Fillums’, it was so refreshing to read literary fiction written with such wit and richness. 4/5

The Artist “The correlation between real life and the fillums was interesting.” 3/5

The Writer “I loved the mystery element of this book, and I also loved the idea of Drane as this kind of place apart where things were not like the rest of the outside world…” 4/5

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