From Violent Masculinities to Gynandricity? Sean O’Reilly’s Watermark (2005)

  • Fiona McCann


Although he has received little critical attention to date,1 Sean O’Reilly (bo rn Derry, 1969), author of three novels and one collection of short stories, is one of the most interesting and innovative of contemporary Irish fiction writers. Aside from his singular representations of urban landscapes and his intriguing use of gothic imagery, his interest in and explicit treatment of heterosexual relations make his works of fiction uncomfortable and provocative reading. In an interview with Shane Barry (2005), O’Reilly acknowledged his conscious wish to focus on pornography, which he feels is regretfully widely ignored in contemporary Irish writing.2 This manifest desire to address (hetero)sexual relations in early twenty-first-century Ireland and provide literary representations of sexual acts coincides with a more general liberalization of sexual mores in this country. O’Reilly’s interrogation of sexuality also coincides with rising scholarly interest in Irish masculinity studies, which proceeds from a position of gender as a constructed rather than given entity.3 The question posed here is whether Sean O’Reilly’s fiction provides new and innovative representations of male and female heterosexual relations which undermine traditional gender stereotypes. Does his fiction transcend or entrench existing clichés concerning gender and sexuality? I propose the latter, and wish to argue that the ostensible centrality of a female protagonist — Veronica — and a foregrounding of her sexual dreams and fantasies in the 2005 novel Watermark 4 is less a celebration of unbridled female sexuality than an expression of hostile male heterosexual fantasy already visible in O’Reilly’s first novel Love and Sleep.


Sexual Object Oxford English Dictionary Violent Masculinity Sexual Politics Referential Objectivity 
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  1. 1.
    This absence of critical attention is gradually being rectified. Maeve Davey has devoted a very interesting article to O’Reilly’s use of the gothic, while Sylvie Mikowski includes one of O’Reilly’s novels in a recent article on representations of Dublin in contemporary Irish fiction. See also my own article on O’Reilly’s use of strange and sometimes apocalyptic urban landscapes as a means of reflecting a cultural and political vacuum in Marie Mianowski (ed.), Irish Contemporary Landscapes in Literature and the Arts (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 94–105.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Shane Barry, ‘Showing the Bones — Sean O’Reilly in Interview’, Three Monkeys Online, September 2005, < oreilly_watermark_swing_of_things_interview.html>.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    All quotations from the novel in this chapter are taken from Sean O’ Reilly, Watermark (Dublin: The Stinging Fly Press, 2005) and will appear in parentheses in the body of the text.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Caroline Magennis, Sons of Ulster: Masculinities in the Contemporary Northern Irish Novel (Bern: Peter Lang, 2010), 145.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Andrea Dworkin, ‘Against the male flood — censorship, pornography, and equality’, in Drucilla Cornell (ed.), Feminism and Pornography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 19–38 (29).Google Scholar
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    Hélène Cixous, ‘The laugh of the Medusa’ in Camille Roman, Suzanne Juhasz and Cristanne Miller (eds), The Women and Language Debate: a Sourcebook (New York: Rutgers State University Press, 1994), 78–93 (86).Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    Patricia Waugh, Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide (Oxford: OUP, 2006), 336.Google Scholar
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    Hélène Cixous, ‘Castration or decapitation?’, trans. Annette Kuhn, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 7 (1) (1981), 52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 21.
    Suzanne Kappeler, The Pornography of Representation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986), 91.Google Scholar
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    Vladimir Nabokov, ‘On a book entitled Lolita’, Lolita (1959; London: Penguin, 2006), 353–61 (356).Google Scholar
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    Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, (3rd edn, Carbondale: University of Illinois Press, 2000), xi.Google Scholar

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© Fiona McCann 2014

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  • Fiona McCann

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