Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Kick Against The Pricks: The Autobiography by David Norris

Senator David Norris, independent member of Seanad √Čireann, presidential candidate, Joycean scholar and defender of human rights. This is the David Norris that we know, his public roles, but there is a lot more to the man and what made him and even those who think they know a lot more about him will find information of great interest in this book.
The epigraphs explain the title. From The Bible, Act 26:4, 'Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against pricks', from Euripedes' The Bacchae, 'Being enraged I would kick against the pricks' and Plautus, 'If you strike against the pricks with your fists you hurt your hands more than the pricks.' Followed by the meaning of the word, 'Prick - a kind of sharpened goad used to prod oxen...from ancient times a source of metaphor...' and used by David Norris 'in full consciousness of its double entendre as a metaphor' for his 'lifelong struggle against the establishment.'

The chapter titles are literary and joyful in themselves; 'My Family and Other Animals', 'Borstal Boy' and 'The Only Gay in the Village' being just three examples. The humorous 'Warning to Readers' to consume the material whole as 'unauthorised toxic bundles of selected quotations may appear in the media' (should steer you away from this review!!) gives us an early insight into David Norris's sense of humour, with a warning to 'be especially cautious of sensational headlines'.
Before starting in to this book, I will say that the photographs are fabulous and tell a story all on their own. From the earliest photos of his maternal grandparents in Co.Laois and his uncle Dick, a colonel and chaplain to the Royal family seen with the young Queen Elizabeth and also Queen Mary, through so many life events to a final most majestic portrait of David Norris at his home in North Great Georges Street.
For David Norris, this book, as he states in the prologue, is an apologia in the classical sense, an explanation to be considered by the civilised reader. With a comment on his Christmas post-presidential campaign and the gutter press of Rupert Murdoch, he realised there was always resurrection.

Born to older parents (father forty-nine and mother forty-three) after ten childless years of marriage, his brother John then four years later David. Having lived and worked in the Congo as Chief Engineer for Lever Brothers a return to Dublin was decided on; first his mother and the two small boys alone, in early 1945 during the war as his father still worked abroad. He saw his father just three more times in the next four years for four- or six-week breaks as he died in Africa of a coronary at fifty-six.
With little family for the majority of his life, he says 'I've always loved the idea of a family, and throughout my life have always tried to assemble the elements of it.'
With reminiscences of school there are the agonies of homesickness of an eight-year-old boarder in a male version of St Trinian's with an absent-minded eccentric headmaster and teachers keen with the cane. Traumatised, he often ran away.
His life is one of the fullest I have come across and he seems to have met every dignitary going. The campaigning that he is well known for is covered with interesting stories. With a closing chapter entitled 'Laughter and Love of Friends', amongst his contemplations on belief, mortality and health, he recalls an emergency hospital visit where halfway to the ambulance he returned for an armful of books. Amongst the crowd gathered a lad called, 'Fair play to ya, Norris, ye're the only man in Dublin who'd be at death's door and he'd be going back for his bukes!' Concluding that he has had a marvelous life and that like Edith Piaf he regrets nothing, he offers some obituary notes and tombstone engavings. All are worthy, but I would plump for the quote from your man above.

This is a really interesting autobiography. It is one of Dublin of the 50s, a young boy and man's experience of growing up without a father in genteel poverty developing into one determined to make the world a fairer place. It encompasses so many subjects and his detailed account of the 2011 Presidential election is his opportunity to tell his side of the story. A great book whether you are a fan of David Norris or not, he's just had a really fascinating life.
Published by Transworld Ireland

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