A new young adult novel, set in a fictional school in Derry which looks at the dangers of the ‘I want’ culture among young people has just hit the shelves.
Penned by retired Coleraine history teacher, Sean O’Connaill, ‘The Chain that Binds the Earth’ was inspired by the legend which reports that the hand-copying of a manuscript of the Biblical Psalms once lead to a war in Ireland.
O’Connaill has taken this issue and brought it to acontemporary setting, with the book seeing four eleven-year-old characters decide that ‘copy-wanting’ - unconsciously adopting the desires of others - is still the biggest problem facing the earth in our own time.
Brought bang up to date the book sees one of the college’s fictional characters is star-struck and wants to be recognised as a coming pop ‘diva’. When another character seems to have more natural talent, jealous bullying follows.
The incidents provide the backdrop to a story that also takes in the current ‘buzz’ for digital technology and what Pope Francis has recently called the ‘throwaway culture’.
“We all do indeed tend to desire what others desire - because they desire it - so why don’t we ever talk about that?” asks the story’s author, retired teacher Sean O’Conaill.
“Up-and-coming Irish golfers won’t fight with Rory McIlroy over the golf clubs that give him victory and world fame - but is this only because they can buy an identical set from the multinational sports firm that mass produces them? “And if Rory was to sign up for a different firm, and win with those new clubs, would those golfers’ buying preferences change too?” O’Connaill said.
“Look at the never-ending ‘Game of Thrones’ violence - seven families fighting for possession of a throne made of swords - far too uncomfortable for anyone to sit on. Each wants it only because the others do - but none ever wakes up to this, or even asks ‘why on earth are we doing this?’”
“I wrote this novel because I had already retired from teaching when I discovered this way of looking at all violence,” O’Conaill explained.
“Only when I was out of the classroom did I have time to read some of the work of the Catholic French-American academic, René Girard, born in 1923. Girard’s term for ‘copy-wanting’ is ‘mimetic desire’.”
“The word ‘coveting’ has dropped almost out of use in our own time,” O’Conaill goes on.
“Girard points out that far too little attention is paid to the problematic aspects of the human habit of contagious desire, which begins sooner than learning to speak.
“Is the tendency to imitate others now indeed the most basic problem of all - when objects of ultimate desire can include not only vast ocean-going yachts with helicopter pads, but the earth’s rare metals, fresh water and dwindling fossil fuel resources?
“And doesn’t the mere possession of nuclear weapons by a few states ensure that all states will ‘covet’ them when they reach a certain level of development?”
These are the sort of questions put by the leading young characters of ‘The Chain That Binds the Earth’ to the staff of Iona College.
How does the bishop’s representative in the story decide the issue?
To find out you will need to read the book, available online and from Derry’s ‘Little Acorns Bookstore’, at its new premises in Yellow Yard (off Palace Street near Derry’s Walls).
‘The Chain that Binds the Earth’ is published by AuthorHouse.