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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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain by Richard Huzzey

Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain by Richard Huzzey (to be published in 2012, 325 pages)

England outlawed slavery in its empire, with some exceptions, in 1834.  Richard Huzzey in Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain says that this claim was an important part of the English identity at the time and gave the English a sense of moral superiority over most of the rest of the world.    I am not a professional historian but anybody with even a passing knowledge of the actions of English in Ireland and Indian will know that this was a thorough going delusion.   Huzzey's book is an attempt to explain why the British were among the first countries to outlaw slavery and how this played a large part in their international relations.

The truth, as Huzzey explains, is not so simple.   There were people in England very passionate about slavery and there were others opposed to slavery for purely political and economic reasons.   Some of the countries competing with England on the world stage were partially dependent on slaves for their prosperity.   There were also those in British society who did equate the working conditions of people in factories to near slavery.  

Huzzey brings up a lot of interesting facts.   One of the was his explanation of the linkage of the value of slaves to the value of sugar.   As the cost of sugar rose or fell so did the price of slaves.  In a way antislavery campaigns helped bring about a climate of racism as most of the classic works on slavery like Uncle Tom's Cabin depicted Africans as intellectually inferior.   Conservative forces in English society were concerned with compensation for slave owners and were even more concerned how freed slaves would fit into society.  


Huzzey's book covers events all over the world, from the West Indies to India.     


I would say his book is interesting.   Maybe it is little to broad in its scope.  

I would say that at a cost of $29.95 I endorse the publication of this book to well funded libraries.  

In the interests of full disclosure I was provided a free copy of this work.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

John Sexton-Two Works of Flash Fiction

The Irish Quarter:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1




Two Original Stories by John Sexton

Please consider participating in the Irish Quarter.   All you need do is post on an Irish short story or related matter and let me know about it.   Guests post are very welcome. 




Milo Hennessy’s Work With Invisible Literature
The Inner Text Of Stanford Lessington



By John W. Sexton




"Milo Hennessy's Work With Invisible Literature"

(a)   Milo Hennessy discovered the concept of invisible literature at the age of seven. He had spent an afternoon writing his first name, over and over again, in the condensation of his bedroom window. After he had finished he wiped the condensation away, removing as a consequence the 20 repetitions of his name. Two days later, when condensation reappeared on his window, he noticed that his name also reappeared with it. The grease from his finger had preserved an invisible record of his writing upon the glass, which was revealed whenever the condensation reformed. Milo took this to mean that written words were immortal.
(b)    One morning at breakfast, at the age of thirteen, Milo found a piece of newsprint inside his boiled egg. On it were the words “am ov.” Milo claimed that this was a message from “the inner consciousness of the cosmic mind.” He recalls that his mother told him to stop messing about and eat his egg. On hearing this he was struck with the notion that this was in fact the correct response required and he ate the words.
(c)     At the age of twenty-three Milo began to experiment with “discarded language,” tearing words at random from newspapers and arranging them into arbitrary found-poems. His most significant found-poem created at this time is “eat ripper vietnam london nil.”
(d)    In his late twenties he began taking words at random from radio broadcasts, changing stations erratically and recording what he heard. It was also at this time that he began destroying his poems as soon as they were written, in the belief that poetry excels only when repressed.
(e)     In 1991 I was with him at Newgrange when he performed an interactive poem with the Newgrange capstone. To achieve this we had to climb over the perimeter fence in the early hours of the morning and carry out our work in secret. Milo had brought with him a bottle of water and a plastic bag full of brandling worms. After thoroughly wetting the stone he placed the brandling worms in the circular markings on its surface and we retreated about twenty yards. It was just a while after dawn and the sky began to blacken with crows. Before long the crows descended on the stone and began fighting over the worms, pulling them to pieces between them. When the crows had finished and the worms had been totally decimated, Milo returned to the stone and began examining the marks of pus and ichor left over from their rendered bodies. Looking at the marks several letters were discernable and Milo made a record of them. The letters quite clearly formed two words, “canc cosm,” which Milo wrote onto a piece of paper and posted to a complete stranger whose name and address he had taken at random from the phone book. With this act Milo claimed to have “published” the poem.
(f)      Milo has not published any poetry since, and claims that all poems bearing his name are lies, even the ones that he has quite clearly written himself. He further claims that he has never actually written poetry and has no interest in it. When asked what he does he will always reply: “I am a poet.”

"The Inner Text Of Stanford Lessington"

Stanford stretches in his chair. He feels an itch on his forehead and scratches the place with a fingernail. Immediately he draws blood.
Going to the bathroom he sees that he’s got a spot in the middle of his forehead. Not being able to contain himself he begins to pick at it.
It’s now a deep hole and he discovers that his little finger fits exactly inside it. On closer inspection, and much to his astonishment, he realises that it’s a keyhole, right there in the front of his head.
At that moment he glances downwards towards the sink, and sees a key on top of the washing basin, beside the soap-dish. He’s never seen this key before, he has no idea where it’s come from. Looking into the mirror he places the key into the hole in his forehead. The key is a perfect fit.
Stanford turns the key. Immediately his face slips a bit, as if on a hinge. To his horror he can open his face like a door.
Inside his face is a space like a small cupboard, four shelves one on top of the other. On the top shelf, right under the roof of his head, is a tortoise. A tortoise, its own tiny face looking out at him. On the shelf below are two beetles. He doesn’t know how he’s doing it but he’s seeing out through them, for they are his eyes. On the third shelf, inside where his inner nose should be, is a mouse. And on the bottom shelf, behind the opening of his mouth, is a bird. A tiny sparrow, its body trembling almost imperceptibly.
Suddenly, without any warning, the sparrow flies out of Stanford’s face, flutters about the bathroom. Stanford gives a shout, but no sound comes out. The bird is his voice, and now it is gone from his head. Just as quickly the mouse jumps to the floor, runs behind the pedestal of the sink. In a panic Stanford closes his face, turns the key. He cannot speak, he can barely breathe.
There is a sudden tightening in his skull as the tortoise begins to move.


End of Guest Post 


I am very honored that John Sexton has agreed to allow two
of his flash fiction works to be published on The Reading Life.  
I will publish two more next week.   As you can see from his official 
biography John has a long and distinguished creative career.  

Author Bio

John W. Sexton was born in 1958 and lives on the south west coast of Ireland in County
Kerry. He is a poet, short story writer, dramatist, children’s novelist, radio scriptwriter
and broadcaster. He is the author of four collections of poetry: The Prince’s Brief Career,
Foreword by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995), Shadows Bloom /
Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock,
Vortex (Doghouse, 2005), and Petit Mal (Revival Press, 2009). A fifth collection, The
Offspring of the Moon, is due from Salmon Poetry for Spring 2013.

He also created and wrote the science fiction comedy-drama, The Ivory Tower, for RTE
radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The
Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien
Press, and have been translated into Italian and Serbian.

He has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons
Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He has been nominated for a Hennessy
Literary Award for his short fiction and his poem “The Green Owl” won the Listowel
Poetry Prize 2007 for best single poem. He was awarded a Patrick And Katherine Kavanagh
Fellowship In Poetry for 2007/2008.

He is one of the most requested writers currently working under Poetry Ireland’s Writers-In-
Schools Scheme.

Mel u

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A House of Cards by Elizabeth MacDonald

A House of Cards by Elizabeth MacDonald (2006)



"My world revolves around art history, it has been my overriding passion for as long as I can remember.  A passion, however, that is the source of something close to pain at this stage, for it has become increasingly difficult to give myself up to immutable beauty of my favorite sculptures and paintings as I become more decrepit.   There was a time, you see, when it was easier for me to connect with Michelangelo's  David than it was with life:  its strength, beauty and heroic purpose were all that life was not.   Life was but a series of betrayals of these ideals.  And why would I want to connect with that?"-Elizabeth MacDonald in "Babele"



Elizabeth MacDonald
A House of  Cards  (a collection of short stories) by Elizabeth MacDonald was listed for the Frank O'Connor Prize in 2007.   It is a beautiful work set mostly in the Tuscany region of Italy.    I will post on a number of the stories individually and I will then attempt to make a few overall observations.   Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places in the world and a strong feeling for this comes through in the stories.    It is almost a Keatsian reflection on the nature of beauty, with Tuscany as  a deeply pervasive backdrop.  These stories do not just talk about the beauty of Tuscany, but rather they also create a beauty of their own worthy of their setting.

"A  House of Cards"

The title and lead story, "The House of Cards" is narrated by a woman who left her home country Ireland at age twenty-one.    She has been living in Tuscany for twenty six years.   She is now a wife and a mother and a keeper of  a lovely home in the Tuscan hills.    Her husband, Giacomo, is a successful engineer, a man of predictable habits,  impeccable tastes, a loving if perhaps not as exciting romantically a husband as he once was.  (Who is after twenty six years?)    He gives her a kiss on the cheek as he leaves for work but you can see it is just past of his "going to work to do list".  Her son, twenty one, is enrolled in the fine arts course at college.   Her husband does not really approve of this but he does not say anything.  You can see the woman still sometimes has to translate her Tuscany experience into an Irish framework to relate fully to it.  MacDonald brings the beauty of the gardens of the house wonderfully alive for us and we know the woman loves her house, her garden and having them all to herself all day long.  

"September in Tuscany is a time of golden sunlight and mellow stillness;  of opulent bunches of grapes, opaque green and velvety purple, hanging from laden trellises throughout the countryside;  then piled up in fruit bowls on kitchen tables.   It is a time of sweet-tasting figs, of mushrooms, and of pumpkins.   This I have come to associate with September".

She thinks back to a very different September long ago in Ireland.   She thinks back to an old love, she still wanders why he left her so long ago. It was this that drove her out of Ireland to Tuscany/    She looks at herself in the mirrors and thinks about how she looked twenty six years ago.    She begins to think of an event that happened many years ago, one she had almost repressed.    I will leave this unspoiled for you.   This is a story about memory, how the past intrudes on the future, about the nature of marriage, about living in exile from your home country and about the effects of living in a place of great beauty.

"Babele"

I love this story for its portrayal of an older man, once a professor now living in Italy for many years from an inheritance from a wealthy aunt.   The story is set at the hottest time of the year in Tuscany.  MacDonald sets the tone of the story perfectly its her sensuously rich descriptions of colors and sounds.   The man is from Ireland, I think.  He tells us that even after twenty years he still finds sleeping in the afternoon somehow decadent.   He has been going to the same hotel for long stays for twenty years now.   The man is having some difficulty dealing with the consequences of aging.  He has to use a walking stick.   He seems very much alone but he seems to prefer it that way.  I think he has raised his level of culture so high it is hard for him to relate to most people and for sure vice-versa.   He was once a professor of art history.   A scene where he encounters some tourists at the hotel is really hilarious and completely wonderful.  My opening quotation is taken from this story.  I think if it were not for my wife I would be like the man in this story, substituting literature for art.  Like him  I have not worked in many years.    I agree with Ford Madox Ford that literature is the highest art form.

"Falling Stars"

"Falling Stars" is about two couples, one seemingly happy and one in deep conflict.   Rosemary and her husband have located a Tuscan farmhouse for Valerie and her husband to spend a week in during a holiday. The beauty of Tuscany is never far from the surface in The House of Cards and it is very much apart of this story.   The dialogue between the couples is very well done.   They are not actually close and you can see the two women struggle to find things to talk about.  We get to see the meal being prepared and it does sound delicious.   During the dinner Valerie's husband makes a cutting remark to her when she has what he thinks is too much wine and she goes from the jugular in her response.   There is a very well done and subtle echo of Anna Karenina at the close of the story (I might be reading this into it but for me it is there.)  This is a very real story, almost painfully so.

"New Year's Resolutions"

I guess it is reasonable to assume that if you live in Tuscany and are from Ireland you will have a lot of visitors and this story, like "Falling Stars" centers around a visit, though one of a very different sort.   In this case the host is an unmarried woman  and the visitor is a man she once had a long term relationship with and now hopes to have him come and live with her.   You can feel her longing and loneliness.   In the stories of MacDonald we are often left with the feeling that things seem like they are about to happen but then we do not know if they will or not.  Life is often like that.

"In Hindsight", one of the longer stories in the collection is set in an art Gallery in Pisa.   The owner arrived in  Italy from Ireland with only his honors degree in art, his wife with her degree in English. He was there to purse advanced studies in his field in Florence.    He decides when the time and the money are right o open an art gallery in Pisa.   He struggled for a long time but is now doing fairly well.   He feels an exhibit he has arranged show casing the work of a famous local artist will greatly increase his standing in the art community.   You can see he and his wife still are very bonded but they do get on each other's nerves at times.  MacDonald does a very good job handling dialogues between couples in which one of the couple is holding back some anger and the other is kind of submitting just to get the conversation over with.   He needs an assistant for his gallery.   A beautiful woman, who reminds him of the woman in the painting The Dancer by Gustav Klimt,  applies for the job.   At first he cannot get past her looks but he sees her qualifications for the job are impeccable and soon she is indispensable  to him.   The artist he will exhibit is difficult and temperamental and she can handle him perfectly.   If you see trouble coming here, you are right.   The more I read of MacDonald's stories, the more I see Tuscany in the background.   Remember this is where the English poets and painters went to bask in the beauty.   There was a time, past now, where Italy felt almost like the tropics to the English.   You can see this in E. M. Foster's story, "The Story of a Panic".    

                    MacDonald does a better job than Forster, it pains me to say this of a writer I love, of showing us how the transcendent beauty of Tuscany effects those not used to it.  Maybe that is one reason MacDonald makes her characters mostly from Ireland, as outsiders they lack complacency and indifference.

"Fire Works"

"Fireworks" also centers on a couple.   In this case tourists who have just checked into their hotel in Pisa, it is pouring down rain.    They have just made love.   The man tells the woman he is going outside for a while to look around and he will be back in time for dinner.   He does not want to wait for her to get dressed so she can go with him.   Pisa is an exotic destination for them and she knows in the back of her mind that the man is really desiring to go out alone so he can look at the local "talent", or so she thinks.   It is poring down rain and she did not expect this.   MacDonald makes excellent use of colors to set the tome for the story.   I liked and think I understood what it means when we read of the "strange intimacy of a hotel room on a rainy afternoon", we can feel the void the man's walk has opened in her.   She decides to go for a walk herself.    Keeping in mind that she sees the Italians as somehow more passionate and "earthy" than people back home she does not quite know how to react when a man who seems Italian, he is described as dark, approaches her on the street.   There is a surprise ending to this story.    Maybe we see the limits of the woman's liberality and into a bit of perhaps ugly xenophobia.   The ending of the story was really a lot of fun and quite smart.



"Sunday Lunch"

"Sunday Lunch" is another superb story about the dynamics of power within families and marriages.   The newly married couple at the heart of this story are an Italian man and an Irish woman, they are just back from their long honeymoon in the Seychelles Islands.  In this very smart detail MacDonald sends the message that these are affluent people with very refined taste, not happy with the ordinary.   One of the things this story is about is the contrast of the Mediterranean temperament of the Italian versus the constrained perceived as icy tone of the Irish. It is about the joy of the first few months of marriage.   But above all it is about a poor woman who does not seem to stand much of a change against her extended in law family and especially against her mother-in-law who plays the strings of guilt with the mastery of a first violin at the Dublin Symphony.   If this woman thinks she is going to take her place in the affections of her son she has another think coming!    This story displays the brilliance and subtlety of MacDonald's use of dialogue and her ability to convey decades of history in just a few half spoken sentences.

There are three  other equally enthralling  stories in A House of Cards.   Most of the stories are about eleven pages long.    There is a very perceptive and passionate introduction by George Szirtes, a  well known Hungarian poet and translator.

I really liked this collection and I totally endorse it to all lovers of the art of the short story. The prose is of the highest quality.    There are fragments that stunned me with their beauty.   The last time anyone, in English, wrote so deeply of the beauty of Italy it was D. H. Lawrence.

Author Bio


Elizabeth MacDonald was born in Dublin, where she studied Italian and Music at UCD. In 2001 she completed the M.Phil in creative writing at Trinity College, Dublin. She teaches English at the University of Pisa, where she lives with her husband and son. Her translations of the short stories of Liam O'Flaherty were the first in Italy. She has translated the poetry of Dermot Healy, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly, Dennis O’Driscoll, George Szirtes, Derek Mahon, and Old Irish nature poetry. She has a special interest is the poetry of Mario Luzi. Her translations have appeared in  many journals, including Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Ireland Review, The Cork Liteary Review and Soglie. A House of Cards was first published by Pillar Press in 2006 and a second edition will be published by Portia Publishing later this year.
“This is a tender, understated and beautiful collection of stories that will leave you longing for more. ” Emma Walsh, The Irish Book Review.  


Elizabeth MacDonald is a principal in a dynamic new  venture, Portia Communications which offers a diverse range of services to the book buying and producing community.


Mel u






Monday, May 28, 2012

Cherry Smyth: "Near the Bone"

"Near the Bone" by Cherry Smyth (2000, 11 pages)


The Irish Quarter:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1




Please consider participating in the Irish Quarter.   All you need do is post on an Irish short story or related matter and let me know about it.   Guests post are very welcome. 

"Near the Bone" by Cherry Smyth is included in The Anchor Book of New Irish Writing (2000).   
Smyth is a leading theorist and chronicler of Gay and Lesbian art and literature in the U. K.  

Cherry Smyth
"Near the Bone" is set in Cootehill, County Cavan, a small town (population about 2000) in Ulster.  Desi is back in town for his annual obligatory visit to his parents. He moved to Germany long ago.  The town has a few pubs, a couple of pharmacies and a two star hotel.  He walks down the main street of the town and thinks that the town has not much changed since he was young, still not much to do.   He stops in at what seems to have once been his hang out, the West End Bar.  Most of the people he used to know have moved to Dublin, London, or America.   Those who have not moved have settled into married life and almost never go out anymore, expect maybe for the World Cup.  


As he enters the bar, he is greeted by the owner.  He has been working out since he left.  The man is hiding something, he is hiding his sexual orientation as he fears his old mates will not accept him and perhaps he will shame his family.   We first learn of it when he fantasies about a man he knows in the bar:  "Suddenly I imagine him head-to-toe in leather, a Muir cap jammed on his head, and the rush of cruising teems through me like amyl nitrate".  He goes into a very vivid totally cinematic flash to himself on the floor of a disco.   One of his old acquaintances, Flinty McClure walks in the pub, he is a a few years older than Desi but they did both play football for the county, a very macho kind of thing.  He asks him where Bob Breen, Flinty's close friend, is tonight.   Flinty tells him he died of cancer.   He observes Flinty has a deep cut on his hand which looks like it is not healing.   Desi senses a great sadness within Flinty, who before then we have to assume he saw a sort of a one dimensional person from who he needed to hide his sexuality.   When Flinty leaves the bar Desi learns that Bob died of AIDS. Flinty never left his side the whole time he was dying.  Desi has a shock of recognition that almost makes him shudder.   He feels ashamed that he could have been so blind and so narrow in his view of Flinty.   He wants to run after Flinty and tell him he understands, to tell him of the other people in his own life lost to AIDS.

"Near the Bone" is a really powerful short story.  It is about going home, it is about like so many other stories, the Irish Diaspora, about not seeing the humanity in others until it is almost too late,  and about feeling different and escaping.   

Official Author Bio

Cherry Smyth is an Irish poet, born in Ballymoney, County Antrim and raised
in Portstewart. She has written two collections of poetry, a poetry pamphlet as
well as a book, essays and reviews on contemporary visual arts. She has also
published short fiction.  Her debut poetry collection, 'When the Lights Go Up'
was published by Lagan Press, 2001. Her anthology of women prisoners'
writing, 'A Strong Voice in a Small Space', Cherry Picking Press, 2002, won
the Raymond Williams Community Publishing Award in 2003.  A poetry
pamphlet, 'The Future of Something Delicate' was published by
Smith/Doorstop, 2005. A second collection called 'One Wanted Thing' (Lagan
Press) appeared in 2006.

Her poems have been published in 'Breaking the Skin', an anthology of Irish
poets, Black Mountain Press, 2002, the Apples and Snakes Anthology,
'Velocity', 2003, 'Magnetic North', The Verbal Arts Centre, 2006.  New poems
have been published in various magazines including 'The North', 'The Shop',
'Staple', 'Magma' and 'Poetry Ireland Review'. She was a prize­winner in the Tonbridge Poetry Competition,
2006 and the London Writers' Competition, 2007.
Her short fiction has been published in many journals and anthologies including Blithe House Quarterly,
"Welcome to the Irish Quarter"-
Carmilla
Summer, 2006, Scealta, Short Stories by Irish Women, Telegram Books, 2006, Chroma, Queer Literary
Journal, 2004, 2006, Tears in the Fence, Vol. 35, 2003, The Anchor Book of New Irish Writing, 2000, and
'Hers: brilliant new fiction', Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999.

Cherry Smyth is the poetry editor of Brand literary magazine www.brandliterarymagazine.co.uk
She has been teaching writing poetry in the Creative Writing Department of the University of Greenwich since 2004.

You can learn more about Cherry Smyth on her very well done web page.   There are also links to her poetry and short stories.   I admire writers with enough confidence and generosity to allow a sample of their work to be read for free.

Mel u


Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Evil Guest by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

The Evil Guest by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1869, 90 pages)


Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1814 to 1873, Dublin) is one of if not the greatest all time writers of horror and Gothic short stories and is the creator of Carmilla, cohost for The Irish Quarter:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story.  I first discovered him during Irish Quarter One in 2011 and have since then read several other works by Le Fanu (there is some additional background information on him in my prior posts).   The Evil Guest shows his total mastery at creating an atmosphere of impending doom.  


"Daddy, welcome back!- Carmilla
The Evil Guest is set on the Irish country estate of a man, his wife, and  young daughter.   The wife's closest companion is the French tutor for the daughter.   The French tutor is described over and over as beautiful.   She acts as sweet as can be but there is a sinister feel behind her.   The story is set toward the end of the 18th century in Ireland.   The relationship of the couple is now more formal than intimate.   The man goes through many moods and is given to long brooding silences.   One day a letter arrives from his cousin, a 50 something year old bachelor, another stock character, the overly polite highly refined aging  roue.   In the letter he basically invites himself for an extended visit.   The husband is worried as there seems to be a very old cloud on the title of the property and he thinks the man may have a claim on the estate.   When he arrives strange things begin to happen.  Given the title I was inclined to think he was the evil guest but Le Fanu spends so much time building up the atmosphere and introduces some other possibilities such as his son away at school, the French tutor (I think we know that it is not a good idea for married women in Victoria novels whose husband no longer cares to visit their separate bed chamber to employ beautiful young tutors or maids, especially French ones), and some house hold servants.   We also meet a very well done cleric and we are confused when some of the servants, who have been at the house for decades, tell the man that they feel they must quit as they have forebodings of great evil.  The visit roue is found with his throat cut and a servant is seemingly the murderer.   I will leave the rest of the plot untold.


The pleasure in this marvelous work, for me anyway, was in the great atmosphere created by the author and his marvelous prose.   It was fun trying to second guess what really happened  and the ending was very interesting and nicely tied in with the history of the time.  


If someone wanted to read just one work by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu I would, based on my limited reading, suggest you start with his novella Carmilla or if you prefer to read a short story I liked his "The Child Stolen by Fairies", a very dark story directly related to the famine years.


I will soon be reading his famous Gothic novel, Uncle Silas and I plan to read more of his short stories, perhaps starting with his collection, The Purcell Papers, which is said to contain some of his very best horror and ghost stories.


The work of Joseph Sheridan le Fanu is great fun to read, not something to force yourself through for a class or for background reading.  


You can download a lot of the work of the author from Manybooks, among other places.  


Please share your experiences with Irish Gothic, ghost and horror stories with us.


Mel u

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Bobogue" an original story by Eddie Stack



A Guest Post for The Irish Quarter
A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1




"Bobogue"
 by
Eddie Stack 2012


The locals were wary of Bobogue. Children whispered that she was a witch; adults said she was odd, that there was a stain in her blood. Thirty years old or maybe more, she'd never had a job and drew Social Welfare as an unemployed poet. She lived a few miles outside town, on a small dysfunctional farm with her brother Paddy, another unemployed poet.
            Twice a week, Bobogue traveled to town on an old red Vespa. In custard-coloured sailing jacket, wild black hair blowing in the wind, she took her time, often halting to smell flowers, pick berries or talk to a horse in a field. The Vespa was seldom road-legal, so she parked it out of harm's way, in Duffy's Lane at the edge of town. From there she walked to Maguire's Supermarket, the post-office, the dole office, the newsagents. If it rained — and she didn't understand why she did this — she browsed in the chemist's shop, soaking up the smells and reading the instructions on medicine packages. But never bought anything. Last call before heading home was Harbour Hotel for a cup of coffee, two cigarettes and a view of the sea.  On the return journey she counted the words she'd spoken during the expedition, like they were spent coins.  A dozen was average, but once she did it in seven, which was a record. If a trip involved conversation of any length, she didn't bother counting the words, but that seldom happened.

The weather was unseasonably warm for May — 'pet-weather,' the old people called it. Bobogue sipped coffee in the hotel bar and watched the early summer activity — a sailing boat maneuvering in the harbour, children fishing from the pier, three orange kayaks being launched on the slipway.
Jason Berry watched her from the counter while he sipped gin and tonic. As if feeling his eyes on her, Bobogue slowly turned and squinted at him: a stranger. Jason thought she was smiling and flashed a grin. She turned away and looked out the window, one eye on his reflection in the glass.

A few weeks afterwards, they met in Maguire's Supermarket. Bobogue was picking up a few cans of Guinness for her brother when Jason docked beside her. and said,
“Hello.” She nodded.
            “Know much about wine?” he asked.
            She shook her head and moved away.
Later he saw her biking home and saluted her. Bobogue glanced back, puzzled. 
After that, he scanned the streets for her whenever he was passing. Once, driving through with his wife, he saw her outside the post office and almost honked. 

June twelfth was Bobogue's birthday and she celebrated with an Irish coffee in the Harbour Hotel. She looked out the sea-view window, lit a cigarette and got lost in a tangle of thoughts about age and death. Jason watched her from the counter. Finally he took his drink to a neighbouring table and spoke.
“Hello there, enjoying the view?”
            “Yeah.”
            “Beautiful around here.”
            “Yeah.”
            “You're local, right?”
            She nodded and sipped her drink. A waiter left another one beside her.          
“It's on me’” Jason said.
            “Thanks.”
            “You're welcome. I'm Jason.”
            He offered his hand and she shook it meekly, blushing a smile.
            “I'm Bobogue.”
            “Nice to meet you, Bobogue. What a lovely name. What does it mean?”
             “Just a name,” she shrugged.
            Jason moved to her table. Fair and fit, with bronzed face and expensive watch, he looked like a model in Sunday magazine. She lit another cigarette. He praised the beauty of the countryside, the friendliness of the people. Then he asked,
“What do you do?”
            “Write poetry.”
            “Really? I thought there was something different about you. I'm in IT. Computers. Software.”
            She nodded.
            “Have you any poems published?”
            Bobogue shook her head, tapped ash from her cigarette and inhaled deeply. A line of poetry came to her and she smiled and felt a little light-headed when Jason called another round. The third drink had her humming and the world lit up. Words began to flutter like butterflies in her heart and she said, “You've made my birthday.”

After two more Irish coffees, Bobogue was sitting in the passenger's seat of Jason's white Volvo, sunroof open, stereo playing the Waterboys. She directed him through the narrow roads of the peninsula, her head bobbing to the songs. Bobogue navigated him to a cul-de-sac, near a monument to the ill-fated Spanish Armada. They crossed the sand dunes to a small beach and Bobogue ran to the water, threw off her clothes, and waded naked into the waves. Jason muttered 'Jesus,' and sat on a black rock.
            They made love in a grassy hollow above the beach and it was a fast act. Bobogue was naked and Jason's pants were at his knees. He turned away from her almost immediately and when she tried to caress him into giving more he said, “We'd better go, I've things to do.”

Five times in two weeks they made love in that same place. She'd park the Vespa in Duffy's Lane and wait in the hotel until he arrived. Her brother Paddy noticed she spent more time away. She had become almost loquacious and sang self-penned love songs when she was at home.
Jason became elusive and her mood changed. She occasionally caught glimpses of him or his car, but could never meet him. Almost daily she was in town, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in the hotel, circling the waterside pubs like a spinning top. A few times she came home drunk, once with a swollen jaw from a bike fall. 
            Nearly six weeks passed before she cornered Jason outside the post office. He said work was hectic, but he hadn’t forgotten her. In fact he was delighted to see her and suggested they go to the hotel for a drink. After a few, they drove to the little beach on the peninsula and made love.
            “I need to see you more often,” Bobogue whispered. “At least once a week. You can come to my house. My brother won't mind.”
            “Look,” said Jason, pulling away, “I'm really busy. When things quiet down I'll have more time.”
            “Can't you make time?”
            “I'm not God.”
            The drive back to town was fast and bumpy. She wanted to know more about him: What was his work number? His mobile phone number? Where exactly did he live? Did he like her? Why wasn't he answering her questions?
            “I'm tired,” he said impatiently. “There's a lot going on at work, I told you that.”
            He dropped her outside the town and sped away. The evening was warm and the tide was full and calm. A couple of white yachts returned to harbour, and a rust-sailed hooker docked at the quay with a group of sunset watchers. People strolled on the pier and Bobogue heard a ceili band play through open windows of the hotel. Outside waterfront bars and cafes, couples in shorts and t-shirts sat at tables. She wished Jason and herself might do things like that: dine at sunset on seafood and champagne.
            When she got to the Vespa, Bobogue couldn't find the ignition key and retraced her steps, peeling the ground as she backtracked. No luck, so she figured the key was either in Jason's car or at the beach. She walked home and stayed up late, searching in drawers and tins and bowls for a spare key she had put somewhere safe. No sign of it. She lit candles and offered a prayer to Saint Anthony as a last resort. Bobogue slept without inspiration and in the morning got a screwdriver and headed into town.
            She was admiring the view at the top of Hogan's Hill when she heard a car approach from behind, and her face brightened when she recognised the white Volvo. She flagged him joyfully, but Jason changed gears and passed her by. There was a woman in the passenger seat.     
            “Hey!” Bobogue shouted after the Volvo. “Hey!”
            In the car, Jason's wife muttered, “Christ, that woman gives me the creeps. She came to my writing circle a few times. She's absolutely bonkers. We had to ask her to leave. I told you about her, she used staple her poetry to the lampposts in town. The police had to stop her.”
            Jason swept down the valley, and Bobogue paled as the car telescoped away He had ignored her. And he was with that stuck-up blow-in from the writing group. It struck her they might be husband and wife. She got weak and sat on the ditch.

Bobogue knew Jason’s surname, but couldn't find his telephone number in the directory, and enquiries had no listing for him. She went demented and Paddy wondered if she was in need of help. She broke two chairs on the kitchen table one night, and spent hours screaming and swearing at the fire. Then she wept for a few days and slowly slipped into blue silence.

The tourists had thinned out before Bobogue spotted Jason in Maguire's supermarket one evening.  She crossed the store to confront him but he vanished. Another time she saw him get petrol at The Rock filling station but he sped away as she approached.  Matt the mechanic told her he lived down around Seafield.
            Bobogue swore that no matter how long it took, or how many roads she traveled, she'd find him. Weekend after weekend, when workers rested at home, she trawled through Seafield, Barrtraw, Skyline and Trawroo for Jason's car. She peered into driveways, scowled at the designer houses with SUVs, Mercs, BMWs and Saabs. No white Volvo in the Blow-in Belt. But Bobogue soldiered on. 
            As the weather got wintry, she wore leather gloves and a parka for the cold. In mid-December the roads were icy by sundown and one Saturday she skidded twice coming down Skyline. She stopped at Maguire's Supermarket and got a six-pack for Paddy and a soldier of whiskey for herself. Christmas songs played over loudspeakers and the checkers wore Santa caps. Every few minutes the voice of Paddy Maguire interrupted the music with bargain announcements for turkey and ham, whiskey, cigarettes, and mince pies. Bobogue was bagging her purchases when a shiny black car pulled outside. She saw Jason get out and hurry into the store; he didn't notice her in the hooded parka.

Jason left the bottle of wine and carton of ice cream on the passenger's seat and pulled out from Maguire's. He liked his new car. He toyed with switches and controls, played a U2 CD, balanced the speakers. Over the weekend he'd hook his iPod to the system and he'd have music all the way to heaven.
When he spotted Bobogue's Vespa peeping out of Duffy's Lane. He drove faster, hoping to avoid her.      
            But turning down towards Kilmore, Jason thought he heard a rustle in the seat behind. Twisting his head, he caught a blurred movement with the corner of his eye, just before Bobogue grabbed him by the neck. He made a gurgling cry as the car swerved out of control. It mounted the ditch, screamed through hazel and birch, until stopped by a stonewall. 
             Jammed against the seat by a huge air bag, Jason moaned and wept. Bobogue climbed from the wreck and into a haze of smoke and road dust. Metal winced and creaked; one headlight beamed cock-eyed across the frost-white fields.
Uneasy on her feet, Bobogue walked towards town with blood on her face and hid in the ditch when cars approached. She had reached The Rock filling station when an ambulance sped by in a whirl of blue noise.

The streets were empty and the Church was full for Saturday night Mass. In the quiet, crisp darkness, Bobogue retrieved the booze she’d stashed in Maguire's wheelie bin and headed to Duffy’s Lane. She smoked two cigarettes and had a few slugs of whiskey while staring at the stars. She mounted her red Vespa and it started on the second turn. Sore and slow on the icy roads, Bobogue rode home at ten miles an hour, a poem rising in her heart.

End of Guest Post


I am very honored and grateful that Eddie Stack has allowed me to published one of his newest   wonderful short stories.   Eddie Stack was one of the first authors whose work I featured when I began to focus on Irish Short Stories.   I read his famous story "Dreamin Dreams" about an out of work Irish blue collar worker in San Francisco.   If there is a theme of this year's event, it is the pervasiveness of  the consequences of the Irish diaspora and Eddie Stack's story looks deeply into that.   








Author Bio- 

Eddie Stack is an Irish writer. He received a Top 100 Irish American Award and American Small Press of the Year Award in response to his first book of short fiction, The West: Stories from Ireland, which was published by Island House (US) and Bloomsbury (UK). His work is included in State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology and Fiction in the Classroom. His stories have also appeared in literary reviews Fiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts and Criterion. Stories from The West have been read on radio worldwide and a CD of four stories read by the author, with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill is also available. His collection of stories, Out of the Blue, was published in Spring 2006. He recently won the Caomhnu Award for short fiction published his novel Heads, which is included in MediaBistro's Best eBooks of 2010 List.

Eddie Stack was co-founder and artistic director of the Irish Arts Foundation in San Francisco. He was a member of the Irish trad group Last Night's Fun with Tommy Peoples, Paddy Keenan, Johnny Moynihan and the late Shane Holden. He is currently working on a book about the culture and traditional arts of Doolin, County Clare. Due out in 2011, the book includes interviews with Micho Russell and Paddy Shannon as well as profiles on the Russell and Killoughery brothers. It has features on storytelling, dancing as well as music and songs from Doolin.




west-sml           blue-sml           heads-sm           simple-twst-sm



You can learn more about him on his beautiful web page.  


Thanks again to Mr Stack for extending this honor to The Reading Life.  I will be reading a lot more of his work.   

Mel u






Friday, May 25, 2012

"Transatlantic" by Colum McCann

"Transatlantic" by Colum McCann (podcast read by author, 53 minutes, April 16, 2012)


Free Breakfast for All 
The Irish Quarter:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1




Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two.   Everything you need to participate is on the resources page, including links to 1000s of short stories, from brand new ones to stories now in the public domain.   Guests posts are also welcome.  If you have any suggestions or questions please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Colum McCann (Dublin, 1965) is one of the most famous of contemporary Irish writers.   He is best known for his post 9/11 novel, Let the Great World Spin.   I have previously posted on one of his short stories, "Aisling".   My main reason for posting on this story is to let readers of The Reading Life know that you listen to the author read the story on the fiction podcast of The New Yorker.    This maybe the only free opportunity to experience his work.   

I really enjoyed this story.   It is about the first transatlantic flight.  As the story opens we learn about the two pilots who will make the flight.  Both were participants in World War One and suffered terribly.   Both loved planes and flying pretty much more than anything else.   Back then you had to be a great mechanic to fly and you needed great courage.   There is a contest with a ten thousand pound prize for whoever makes the first flight across the Atlantic.   There are a number of people getting planes ready to try.   The worse possibility is that the prize might be won by a German who was a long range bomber pilot during the war.


We get to know both men well.   They are based on real figures.   We are there when they put the plane together and for sure, McCann has done a beautiful job with this, we are there on the terribly hard very long flight from the USA to Ireland.   It felt totally real to me when the men froze, when the plane began to fall apart and when they thought they were going down into the Atlantic.   There is also a mother daughter team of reporters, not real, that are a lot of fun and add value to the story.   This is really a joyous life affirming story about two men doing what they love.  


You can listen to the story here

Mel u

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Love on Trial" by Stanley Kenani -3rd of 5 posts on the Caine Prize Short List

"Love on Trial" by Stanley Kenani (2011, 15 pages)


Blogging the Caine Year Three 2012


My Ranking of the 2012 Stories So Far

1.  "Bombay's Republic" by Rotimi Babatunde-worthy to be a winner
2.  "Love on Trial" by Stanley Kenani-

So far "Bombay's Republic" is the best by far

The Caine Prize is considered Africa's leading literary award.    Entry is open to anyone from an African country and the form of work is the short short.   The patrons of the prize include three African winners of the Nobel Prize for literature, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee and Wole Soyinka.    Chinua Achebe, winner of the International Man Booker prize,  is also a patron.    The award comes with 10,000 British Pounds  and is given out annually at a celebratory event in Oxford.     The short story is seen as a continuation of the tradition of African story telling which is one of the reasons the award focuses on that genre.    The award began in 2000.   

I began blogging on the Caine Prize short listed stories in 2010.   As far as I know I was the only person to do this.  In 2011 six bloggers posted on the stories which resulted in some very good posts and conversations.   In 2011 much of the comments were about whether or not the stories were a form of what was called "African Poverty Porn".   In 2010 there were several good stories and the winner, "Stick Fighting Days" by Olufemi Terry was just wonderful.  The 2011 stories were of lower quality.   There are now 19 bloggers posting on the stories this year.


I will be posting, as will a number of others, on a story a week for the next five weeks.   So far all three of the 2012 stories have been better than any of the 2011 stories.  




"Love on Trial" by Stanley Kenani is set in Malawi.   Homosexual behavior is illegal there and carries very long prison sentences.   Like "Urban Zoning" heavy drinking plays a central part in this story.  I as a rule am turned off by stories, novels, TV shows and movies that center on heavy drinkers or drug abusers.   I know this is a prejudice but it is how  I feel.   It is why even though I accept the technical brilliance of Raymond Carver I do not read him with any great interest.

The central character is a bar fly type.  The most fabulous thing he ever did was to come upon two men having sex in the restroom of the bar.   When he tells people about it they all profess great shock and many do not think it is even possible.   He begins to insist that people buy him a drink before he will tell the story. People come from far and wide to hear his story.   Soon he names the man in the story to the authorities.   The man ends up on TV being interviewed and being damned as the basest of creatures acting against the laws of God.  He ends up getting a long prison term.  A lot of human rights groups protest the sentence and Malawi ends up having a lot of vitally needed aid cut off because of this.  At the end of the story the man in the bar is found to have aids, we do not know how he contracted it.   He goes to the medical station and is told there is no medicine for aids victims because it was supplied by foreign countries who cut off their help when the man he informed on was sent to prison.

This is kind of an interesting story.   I liked the circular plot structure.    I do not see this story as a worthy winner as it is more a polemic  than a work of quality literature.

Official Biography of the author

Born in 1976, Stanley Onjezani Kenani is a writer from Malawi. Love on Trial is one of the short stories in his debut collection, For Honour and other stories, published in 2011 by Random House Struik in South Africa. In 2007, he was second runner-up in the HSBC-SA PEN award, judged by JM Coetzee, for the title story of his collection, which was also shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2008. A poet who is also an accountant, Kenani lives and works in Geneva, Switzerland. He is currently finalizing his debut novel, Drama Republic.


There is a link to the other posts on the Caine Prize here.   If you read the posts of the others posting on the Caine stories you will find a lot of geopolitical data.  

Mel u