Stylizing Life: Empathy and Translation in Roisín O'Donnell's Transcultural Writing


  • Hedwig Schwall Leuven Centre for Irish Studies (LCIS)



As an arch-migrant, Roisín O’Donnell moves between mental, spatial and verbal homes, between teaching and writing. In “How to be a Billionaire” and “Crushed”, two short stories which wrap her volume Wild Quiet (2016) she develops a “narratology of otherness”, using a combination of empathy and translation to convey her new Irish schoolchildren’s “tussles with identities” into complex and colourful texts, allowing the reader glimpses of the ways in which her protagonists shift between affects and emotions, phantasms and memories, confusion and trauma. Fed by the theories of Jacques Lacan, Christopher Bollas, René Anzieu and Giorgio Agamben this article will perform a close reading of the formal ingenuities in O’Donnell’s style, devised to represent the “crowded nature of contemporary selfhood”. More specifically this reading focuses on six kinds of communication: body language, dress code, gestural idiom (in “Gestalten”), impact of spatial factors, verbal abilities, and finally emotional and mental images which form a kind of “pellicular” diary.

Keywords: Roisín O’Donnell; Wild Quiet; “How to be a Billionaire”; “Crushed”; new Irish; Gestalt; RIS system; the good enough parent.

Author Biography

  • Hedwig Schwall, Leuven Centre for Irish Studies (LCIS)
    Hedwig Schwall is director of the Leuven Centre for Irish Studies (LCIS). She is co-editor of the series Irish Studies in Europe (ISE) and editor of Volume 8 (Boundaries, Passages, Transitions, 2018). She was special editor of issue 2:1 of Review of Irish Studies in Europe on Irish Textiles: (t)issues in communities and their representation in art and literature. She publishes in and reviews for the Irish University Review, English Text Construction, Estudios Irlandeses, Etudes irlandaises, Partial Answers, LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory and is on the board of International Yeats Studies, the Irish University Review, Studi irlandesi, the Nordic Journal for Irish Studies and the Brazilian Journal for Irish Studies. As Project Director of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS, she engages in literary translation which led her to head the projects Yeats Reborn (2013-2015) and Literature as Translation (focusing on John Banville, 2016-2018). In her research she focuses on contemporary Irish fiction and poetry as well as on European art, often using psychoanalytic theory. In November 2018 she published the website Kaleidoscope: where 50 Irish fiction writers describe what writing fiction means to them; in March 2019 an extension of this collection will come out in book version under the title The Danger and the Glory (Arlen House).




How to Cite

Schwall, H. (2019). Stylizing Life: Empathy and Translation in Roisín O’Donnell’s Transcultural Writing. ABEI Journal, 20(2), 63-81.