How was it for you? Alan O'Riordan shares his highlights of 2018

As the year draws to a close, Alan O'Riordan shares his highlights from the past twelve months.

Best book

Didier Eribon’s Retour à Reims. In the year of the gilets jaunes, it’s an insight into a France beyond the chic city centres and picturesque tourist regions.

Not a book, but book-length, was David Grann’s ‘The White Darkness’, published in the New Yorker. 

An account of Henry Worsley’s fatal obsession with the Antarctic, it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Another highlight was to observe how Emilie Pine balanced raw emotion and stylistic poise in her brilliant collection Notes to Self. 

Definitely one of those books you want to buy for everyone.

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THE WHITE DARKNESS by david grann (nonfiction) one man’s extreme, courageous attempt to retrace and surpass ernest shackleton’s failed trek across antarctica + this slim volume packs a powerful, evocative punch + beautiful edition with color photographs = 👍🏻 ❄️ “As is true of many adventurers, he seemed to be on an inward quest as much as an outward one—the journey was a way to subject himself to an ultimate test of character.” ❄️ “...he had seen his naked soul.” ❄️ *guys. it was SNOWING here in oklahoma. in november. stop it weather. you’re drunk. ❄️ so nice to meet david grann and have my book signed at @texasbookfest 💙 ❄️ #thewhitedarkness #davidgrann #whatiread #becausereading #fiction #bibliophile #littlebookreviews #books #readingisfun #readinglist #readingrules #booklover #bookworm #bookish #bookstagram #instabook #instaread #ilovebooks #voraciousreader #readbooks #instabooks #readabook #readmore #readmorebooks #igreads #whattoread #whattoreadnext #reader #brettlikes👍🏻

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Best film

“Just give it ALL the Oscars.” That was my response to seeing Phantom Thread. 

And it’s still what I think after it got just the one. 

I was lucky enough to see it in 35mm at the Light House in Dublin. 

It made of the film a shimmering artifact: it was a palpable, almost tactile viewing experience. 

Very fitting given the subject matter, certainly, but also, it drew attention to how this film about art and making is itself a master class in art and making by Paul Thomas Anderson. 

Plus, I’ve rarely heard a soundtrack so precisely and beautifully intertwined with what’s happening on screen.

Visual art

The National Gallery’s Emile Nolde show was a wide-ranging representation of a major artist who put his own stamp on the modernist, expressionistic sensibility. 

Nolde’s Nazi affiliations make him an uncomfortable subject, but this show did not shirk this aspect. 

Nor did it simplify it, including as it did numerous works produced privately by Nolde after he was deemed a “degenerate” artist by the Nazis.

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Cruxifiction Triptich by #emilenolde

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Live music

In a year of much good music, David Byrne’s extraordinary live show has to be up there. 

It wasn’t merely a nostalgia hit of tunes, it was all about movement, mis en scene, collaboration. 

An extraordinarily affirming, generous experience. 

There was a sense of renewed vigour this year for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. 

Tord Gustavsen squeaked home as the highlight of an absorbing few days of music that had something for all tastes.

Other highlights

The most significant, welcome and fun development in the arts this year was the launch of the Irish National Opera. 

The ambition, polish, scope and range of its first season has been a joy to see unfold. 

Particular highlights were The Marriage of Figaro, Enda Walsh’s stunning reprise of Bartok’s rarely performed Bluebeard’s Castle, and Tom Creed’s witty and stylish take on Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. 

All rounded off with a staging of Aida in all its very-grand-opera-indeed pomp. Roll on next year.

One that got away

I was out of town when Grief Is the Thing With Feathers was the talk of it.

Perhaps I’ll catch it some day. As someone keen at any opportunity to encourage in my kids the same giddy glee I take in a good musical, I was disappointed not have brought them to Matilda.


Helen Boaden’s report on the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra painted a sad picture of neglect and decline, of a kind practically unique in Western

Europe: just 68 full-time players, compared with a historical 90 or so; just 40 players with the Concert Orchestra; no full-time principal conductors; and a dwindling number of performances – to almost none outside of Dublin.

It’s a disgraceful abdication of responsibility, a neglect of a key part of our cultural inheritance as a European country.

The orchestras need investment, vision and the power to think ambitiously. 

We’ve seen what the National Opera has achieved from a tiny investment. 

It’s time to empower our orchestras similarly.

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