M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Dinosaurs On Other Planets" by Danielle McLaughlin (from The New Yorker, September 15, 2014)




Ethel Rohan's Guest Post on Danielle McLaughlin


My Q and A with Danielle McLaughlin

I have been following the literary career of Danielle McLaughlin for almost there years now. She has very kindly participated in a wide ranging very informative Q and A session which anyone interested in the short story should read.  I have posted on three of her short stories.   One of the very rewarding aspects of blogging on contemporary writers is seeing them gain increasing recognition for their talents.  For a short story writer being published in The New Yorker Is about as good as it gets.  I was very happy to find Danielle's story "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" in the September 15th issue.   It is the title story of a collection of her short stories being published next year by The Stinging Fly.  The Stinging Fly is Ireland's leading literary journal and a world class publication of high quality short stories and poetry.   They launched the career of Kevin Barry and published the 2014 Frank O'Connor Prize Best Short Story collection winner Young Skins by Colin Barry.  

One of my purposes here is to let my readers know that this story can be read online. (I will include a link at the close of the post.)  "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" is set in rural Ireland.  In just a few pages Danielle does a masterful job of letting us see many years of family dynamics.  One of the things one sees through out Irish literature is the treatment of the surface emotional reticence of the Irish.   You can see this in Dubliners and Patrick Kavanagh's majestic poem, "The Great Hunger".  "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" is in this great tradition.   The story is set at the home of a long married couple.  The wife is fifty one, the husband much older.  He is retired and spends a lot of time wood working.   They have not slept together for a year and their living in London now adult daughter's bedroom is where the husband now sleeps.


The daughter is coming with her son and her new boyfriend for a visit.  The parents don't want her or their grandson to know they are estranged.  There is no hate, the passion, if there ever was much, is gone.  I don't want to reveal more of the plot.  I think you will enjoy finding out what the story has to do with dinosaurs on other planets, I did.

Declain  Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing Irish father.  In my opinion this story exemplifies this.  Danielle talks about this in her Q and A.

You can find the story here 




I greatly enjoyed reading this story and I am avidly looking forward to her collection.  

Danielle McLaughlin lives in County Cork, Ireland. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Stinging Fly, The Salt Anthology of New Writing 2013, Willesden Herald New Short Stories 7, The Long Story Short, The Irish Times, The Burning Bush 2, Inktears, Southword, 
Crannóg, Hollybough, on the RTE TEN website, on RTE Radio and in various anthologies. She has won a number of prizes for short fiction, including the Writing Spirit Award for Fiction 2010, The From the Well Short Story Competition 2012, The William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition 2012, the Willesden Herald Short Story Competition 2012-2013 and the Merriman Short Story Competition in memory of Maeve Binchy.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn

The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn  (1997, 213 pages)

"Parts of The Keepsake somehow brought to mind ancient death cults in Meso-American religion."-from my first post on The Keepsake (in September 2011)"
This is an update of a prior post on the occasion of my fourth reading of this great book with a few new observations added at the start.

Notes added after fourth reading

. Obviously I hold this book in very high esteem.  After finishing my fourth reading I look forward to the fifth, hopefully in 2015.  As I read this time I saw,I think,how the circular broken wheel structure of the narrative mirrors the life of the narrator.   I saw deeper I hope into the perpetuation of cycles of abuse, I began to wonder if the narrator was sexually abused by her mother.  There is much pain and loneliness in Ths Keepsake  that it hurts to read but not as much as the pain of knowing it is there and looking away.    There are deep things about old books and the reading life here but I do not yet feel I am close enough to an understanding to yet talk of it.  

3rd reading observations

"Parts of The Keepsake somehow brought to mind ancient death cults or Meso-American religion."-from my first post on The Keepsake (in September 2011)

This is my third  reading of a very amazing almost painfully beautiful very dark book, The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn  (1960, New Zealand).  I hope to read it a number of more times.


There is so much in this book it is hard for me to know where to start.  I found reading it the third time a very intense experience as I feel I am beginning to come to terms with the work.  

Here is the goodreads description of the book (almost never do I quote third party descriptions but I need help here)

Through a shifting and interwoven narrative, Kirsty Gunn explores the dark world of a young girl who has grown up with a mother dependent on storytelling and the oblivion of addiction to cope with the memory of her lost love, the girl's father. Raised on these deceptive tales of happiness, the younger woman is drawn into and begins to relive the real story of pain, abandonment, and the tyranny of desire. Her shocking affair with an older man seems to repeat the pattern set by her mother. The tangled yarn of her mother's past begins to be unraveled by the younger woman - until finally she can come to tell a story that is her.   

This is not a bad description but it misses the real core themes of the book, in my opinion.  It is about love as obsession, incest, child molestation, reading and its role as a memory and a trapping device, about colonialism, about Europe, about drug addiction, the nature of evil, about human weakness and predators that feed upon it.  I wish I could explain more but I cannot.  The prose itself seduces us with its opiate like beauty just as the woman in the plot was seduced and destroyed.

There is a very dark beast lurking in the labyrinth , a mystery the narrator may or may not understand as her life progresses and as she falls in the same traps her mother did.






Saturday, September 27, 2014

"The Imaginary Mistress" by Honore de Balzac (1843, a novella component of The Comedie Humanine )




"The Imaginary Mistress" is a comedic work and a satire of high  society in France in the 1830s.  There are three central characters in The Imaginary Mistress.  The estimated reading time is only sixty minutes and I think it is worth the time.  There is really nothing remarkable about it but it is fun to read of the foibles of rich aristocrats, imagine we are watching a beautiful young countess being dressed for a ball, viewing the sumptuous furniture, and watching the money flow.

A rich French woman marries a very rich Polish count.  The count has a very close friend, also a Polish nobleman and a fellow veteran.  He is not as rich as the man that married and he manages the financial affairs of his friend.  As I read this I wondered if the use of Polish noble men was kind of a message to his amorata, a Polish countess.  The plot, involving a woman who rides horses in a circus, among others and a terrible illness,  is pretty melodramatic and predictable.  It was a fun read.


17 of 91

Mel u

Friday, September 26, 2014

"The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher" by Hilary Mantel (2014)



"I said, ''It's the fake femininity I can't stand, and the counterfeit voice. The way she boasts about her dad the grocer and what he taught her, but you know she would change it all if she could, and be born to rich people. It's the way she loves the rich, the way she worships them. It's her philistinism, her ignorance, and the way she revels in her ignorance. It's her lack of pity. Why does she need an eye operation? Is it because she can't cry?''

Debunking idiotic right wing reaction to this story




It is not often that a short story plot generates international outrage.  "The Assissination of Margaret Thatcher", the title story in Hilary Martel's new collection of short stories has done just that with its story about a middle aged middle class English woman chatting with and even helping a bit a professional killer who broke into her house as a vantage point to shoot Mrs. thatcher. Martel has stocked the fires, and perhaps sales, by talking to the British press about how much she hated the Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of England 1979 to 1990) and how she had fantasied about killing her.    Those who disliked Thatcher were often not just adverse to her very right wing politics but also hated her personally as a worshiper of the rich and many found her personally "phony".  She was also seen as strongly anti-Irish.

The fascination and fun of this story is in the interaction of the assassin and the lady whose house he has illegally entered.  These two people very different worlds share a common hatred for Thatcher.  The killer seems in the pay of The Irish Reublican Army.  He hates her for her political views, the woman thinks she is phony and hates her personally.  The conversations are almost surrealistic in the very unlikely meeting of these two very different people.  

This is a very clever creative story I greatly enjoyed reading.  It is online here.



Mel u


Thursday, September 25, 2014

"The Money" by Junot Diaz (from The New Yorker, June 11, 2011)



I offer my great thanks to Max u for the gift of a subscription to The New Yorker which allowed me to read this story.

"The Money" is the briefest short story by Junot Diaz I have so far read.  It is also the first one that does not focus mostly on young Dominican men,living in New York or New Jersey, endlessly in search of women.  It can be read in just a few minutes.

The story is told by a young, maybe early adolescent boy living with his parents and five siblings in an apartment in a rough neighborhood.  His dad works on and off as a fork lift operator.  Like lots of immigrants, his mother sends money back home when she can.  The plot action begins when the family returns from vacation to find the money the mother saved to send home stolen.

This is a decent work.  It is not as exciting as his more r rated stories but for sure worth reading. 

It can be found here. 


Mel u





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Madame Firmiani" by Honore de Balzac (1832, a short story component of The Human Comedy)





I am for now working my way at more or less random through Balzac's grand Comedie Humaine.  There are ninety one works under this rubric but many are short stories or novellas so a full reading of it is not as challenging a thought as seems at first.  I would like to do this but for now I am just reading. 

"Madame Farmiani" (estimated reading time is twenty minutes) has three main characters, Madame Farmiani, a very beautiful voluptuous aristocratic woman, a young man of twenty something in love with her and his uncle.  The man "selling point" of this story in 1832 was probably the long fairly detailed reverie on the face, hair, toilette, and body of Madame Farmiani.  Her husband is rich though no guest at one of her at homes has ever seen him.  A young man, the heir to an uncle's considerable estate, falls in love with her. The uncle hears of this and goes to Paris to investigate and is very taken with her.

The story ends happily, maybe the ending seems a bit pandering to mass tastes.  The story is worth the read for the descriptions of the woman, the aristocratic interiors, and the narrator's running commentary on the motives and characters of the people in the story.

If you wanted to dig into this story much could be made about the attitude toward women shown by the narrator.  Of course this is Balzac and money plays a big role in the story.


16 of 91




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Study of a Woman" by Honore de Balzac (1830, a short story component of The Human Comedy)





There are in the edition I have 91 works in Honore de Balzac's Comedie Humaine.  This is not as daughting a reading project as it sounds as many of the components are short stories or novellas.
It is not all huge 19th century novels.   My IPAD Kindle application estimated the reading time for the Delphi Edition of the works of Balzac (which includes some informational writings)  to be 234 hours, so if you start now and read five hours a day you can complete it easily by the end of the year.  Balzac is the foundation stone of modern French literature and much more and so far he has been a great pleasure to read.  Engels said he learned more from reading Balzac about the true nature of society than he did from decades of study of history, economics, and social philosophy.  

"Study of a Woman" is a gentle comic satire of lower level Parisian aristocrats.  The man is a Marquis hoping to be elevated to a peer of France.  He is most remarkable for his conformity to all social norms both at work, in society and at home.  His wife,lovely but not stunning, is the model of virtue.  When a young dandy at a dance squeezes her hand a bit too hard, she turns totally cold.  One day she receives a love letter from a young noble man who spoke briefly to her at a dance. The fun of the story is in what happens because of this and I will leave it untold. I read it in a translation by Katherine Wormeley.The estimated reading time is ten minutes.  

Mel u