The Gatekeeper

Author Terry Eagleton has published many books with gripping titles such as "The Illusion of Postmodernism" and "Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader." But in his recent books, the scholar has come down from the Ivory Tower to explore his Irish upbringing in Salford, the "dirty old town" near Manchester in England's industrial northwest. First, there was 2000's occasionally funny, occasionally bizarre "The Truth About the Irish." A sort of tour de farce, Eagleton held court on everything from potatoes and St. Patrick to the fine folks who reside in the Irish capital's posh Dublin 4 section. Eagleton's perspective on all things Irish is, if nothing else, different. That's certainly the case in "The Gatekeeper," his new memoir. Eagleton writes about growing up in what he describes as a "cowed, daunted" Catholic family. Religion, in fact, is a large part of Eagleton's book. He eventually casts aside the faith - though it was the Catholic radicals at Cambridge who seemed to offer him his first intellectual home. As a young boy, Eagleton served as a "gatekeeper" at a local convent, which basically kept its residents cloistered from the outside world. When a young girl was about to enter, young Eagleton led her away, often from weeping parents who might never see their daughters again. Such an experience surely must have soured this budding radical on Catholicism, though Eagleton did later attend a seminary. (Things weren't so rosy there either.) Eagleton's radical politics seem out-of-date, though he is to be credited not only for sticking to his political guns, but for also having a good laugh at those whose liberal views are not all that different from his own. In the end, "The Gatekeeper" is a fine addition to that cottage industry within publishing, the Irish memoir. ($19.95 / 178 pages / St. Martin's Press)

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