"Foreword" by John Walsh to 30 Under 30 A Selection of Short Fiction by Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy
The Irish Quarter
"If all went well, then John would be in Galway by seven o'clock. He was excited. For years he'd said that Dublin was plastic. Galway, however was the real Ireland."
When I began a seven day event on my blog in April of this year devoted to the work of emerging Irish women writers I was happily amazed by the great quality of the stories I found to post about. I soon decided to make posting on the work of emerging Irish writers, men and women, a permanent part of The Reading Life. This has worked out great for my blog and opened up lots of new things for me.
There are thirty stories in this collection. (I totally endorse purchase of this very fairly priced collection and will provide a publishers link at the end of this post.) There is also a very interesting introduction by the editor Elizabeth Reapy (I have posted on her very well done short story, "Statues") and a foreword by John Walsh..
Posting on collections of short stories that include the works of many different authors presents a big challenge, to me at least. I do not personally care for reviews or posts on short story collections that simply have one or two lines of a few of the stories and then gush over the collection as a whole with standard book review quotes. These could in fact easily be written without reading much of the collection and to me it is like going on about a forest without realizing it is made up of trees. On the other hand, to post on all thirty of the stories would take a long time, an hour or so per post give or take, so I am will decide as I go how many of the stories to post on. I will also comment briefly about the forward of Walsh and introduction of Reapy.
I decided to first read "The Revolutionary and John Synge" by Ferdia Lennon because, acknowledging the very paltry state of my Irish literary education, I am convinced John Synge is the third most important modern Irish writer behind Joyce and Yeats. I also really love the diction in his plays and was very moved by his book, The Aran Islands. Much of my secondary knowledge of Synge comes from the work of Declan Kiberd. I said to myself, I will read this story and if I like it I will undertake a review of much of the collection. I read it and I loved it. I was hooked by the opening lines (quoted at the start of the post). I do not know a lot about Galway but I am confident it has produced more great writers than any city of its size, and more than many a city of 20 million. John, the lead character in the story, bearing the same name as Synge of course, does not just read Synge, he knows about his way to short life and admires him as a person. He thinks about how Synge used to hide in the attics of Irish peasants so he could internalize their modes of speech for his plays. Of course there are issues in the life of Synge and the narrator knows this. To easedrop on people may in a sense be an act of reverence but it is also an intrusion and treats them as something to be studied for part of what they are, not as full humans. John wishes he had been born in Ireland in the late 19th century of early 20th. He loves the rough beauty of the Galway area. Now John is not just a dreamy young man thinking about dead playwrights, he has drinking buddies and likes going to pubs in pursuit of women. He goes to the bus station to meet his old friend, Donal, and is shocked by how he has transformed himself into an extreme body builder. Donal uses profane language, thus certifying his masculinity. They have an interesting conversation in which Donal tells him of his expensive diet and his training routine. I enjoyed this conversation, especially the part about the fish!
Donal and John, Donal lives in Dublin, begin to argue over where Dublin is "fake" or not. "You're wrong, man. There is something special about Galway. It's the real thing. Dublin's full of Yuppies."
John starts talking to Donal about The Playboy of the Western World, Synge's most famous play. Donal has heard of it and has a confused notion of what it is about. There is a simply brilliant depiction of the conversation between the two young men about Synge's habit of hiding in attics listening to people.
I will leave the rest of this story untold. In a way Donal can kind of be seen as an Irish peasant (I know I am reaching here, perhaps beyond the intentions of Lennon) and just like an Anglo-Irish aristocrat intellectual of the early 20th century John looks down on him when seen in the flesh. Donal, not John a self-conscious intellectual, is the kind of man that Synge wrote about in his plays. John is really shocked when Donal gets the better of him in an argument.
This is a really good fun to read story. There are girls, nice ones and sleazy types, Guinness, and reflections of the recession in the Irish economy. Lennon puts a lot in a few pages and I look forward to reading more of his work.
In his forward John Walsh (I have posted on his marvelous collection of interrelated short stories, Borders) tells us the very interesting story about how his company, Doire Press, came to publish the collection.
Ferdia Lennon is an Irish writer from Dublin. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Galway Ropes Anthology, Boyne Berries, and wordlegs.com.
You can find more information about the collection at the web page of Doire Press
I do not know how many stories I will post on for sure. I am confident it will be at least ten and perhaps all of them.