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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Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Lost Fingers" by Jose Varghese (a short story)


"The Lost Fingers" by Jose Varghese


"The Lost Fingers"
a short story by
Jose Varghese, PhD


This is the second short story by Jose Varghese that I am very honored to have been allowed to publish on The Reading Life.  

You can read his prior story, "Silent Woman", here.   "The Silent Woman" is a brilliant story and a profound work of art.   


Official Author Bio

Jose Varghese is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at Sacred Heart College in Kochi, India. His PhD is in Post-Colonial Fiction (select novels of Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Rohinton Mistry) and he is currently working on a research project on the works of Hanif Kureishi. His collection of poems 'Silver Painted Gandhi and Other Poems' was listed in Grace Cavalieri's Best Reading for Fall 2009, in Montserrat Review. His poems and stories have appeared in the journals Chandrabhaga, Kavya Bharati, Postcolonial Text, Re-Markings, Asia Writes, Poetry Chain, Dhvani, Dusun and The Four Quarters Magazine. He has participated in a Faber Writing course in London. He plans to publish a collection of short stories soon. 




THE LOST FINGERS
by
Jose Varghese, PhD


The taxi driver seemed reluctant to take his right hand out of his trousers’ pocket to receive the fare I gave him.It was when I tried to put the money in his hand that I realized there were two fingers missing in his hand – the thumb and the index finger. I wondered why I failed to notice it during the one hour drive to the college. I could sense his embarrassment from the way he held the currency notes for an odd moment betweenthe existing fingers and the palm. Then he put that hastily in his pocket and asked me whether he should come to fetch me in the evening.  I was just joining as a lecturer at the college and was not sure whether I should take a taxi in the evening as well or learn about the new place as fast as I could and start traveling by bus. But I said “Yes” to him in a reflex action.

    My first day at college went event less except for the fifteen minutes I spent in the cabin of the Head of the English Department. I was asked by the graying  bespectacled, gentlemanly HoD to go through the syllabus of the college’s bachelors program and identify the areas of teaching I am comfortable with  I took the task seriously and told him that there was nothing unfamiliar to me in it except Victorian Poetry. Almost suddenly, he handed me over a few booklets with a mischievous smile:

           “So, you better start preparing the Victorian Poetry modules. I need the newcomers here to work. You see, we oldies-prefer to sit back and relax for a while now, until we retire. “

    Though this came a little unexpected, I took it in a sportive manner and managed to say “Of course sir, thank you” before I walked back to my room in the department. I spent most of the morning reading the booklets and befriending the colleagues who came in to say hello to me. I had lunch in the canteen where I saw students of many kinds, some digging their nose into their books while they gulped down food inattentively, some taking time to flirt a bit, and some talking away the dry moments of a cold day. I went to the library in the afternoon to borrow a few books that I thought would be useful to prepare for my first class the next day. I was a bit listless when I walked to the college gate in the evening, but was greeted by the familiar face of my taxi driver there.

                “ Hello sir, I reached here just in time. My daughter studies here, and if you don't mind it, I could drop her home as well, which is just two blocks from your residence.”
                “ Of course”, I said, glancing sideways at the sheepish young girl standing next to the door doubtfully. She took the cue from me and quietly opened the front door to sit next to her father. As we moved out into the street, the driver told me that I had to pay only half the fare if I chose to travel in his cab every day,since he needs to fetch his daughter to and from the college. I agreed to the proposition  without thinking much. As I started to shuffle the pages of the books I took from the library, he introduced himself.

                “ I Am Benjamin. I had been a taxi driver much before I married her mother. Well,my daughter’s name is Susan.”
                “Hello,Susan. I am John. I have just joined your college as a lecturer in English.”
                “ Hello John. I am doing my Bachelors in English.” Susan said in a husky voice, looking back at me.
                “So,we will meet tomorrow in class”, I said, giving her a smile.

    She smiled back. Benjamin tried to give her a paternal pat on the shoulder  but I could see her shrugging away from his touch. I could see her staring indifferently at his right palm clung to the steering wheel. Somehow, Ifelt that he had lost his fingers in the not too distant past, but I restrained from queries on that, out of civility.
    Benjamin seemed to be in a talkative mood, though.

“Her mother passed away last year. I have a son too, but he has left us after her mother's death ” There was a moment’s pause as he waited for the green signal at a traffic joint. Then he continued his talk.

“You know,he was kind of too close to her, and I guess he couldn't stay in the same house afterwards  I've heard that he is working in some restaurant in the city”.

    Susan remained silent for the rest of the drive, as Benjamin kept talking about the place and the initial days of struggle for him as a taxi driver  He dropped me near my residence and bid farewell, assuring me that he will turn up the next morning.

    My first class was a lame affair, since the students seemed tired of the Victorian sentiments and poetry in general. I wondered why they chose to punish themselves with a course which they disliked. I gave them a few written assignments, hoping to assess their proficiency and aptitude eventually.

    The arrangement with Benjamin went on smooth for a month, and I never even thought of traveling by bus. I took my own time to get familiarized with the place and my profession. The written assignments turned out to be just above average, except a very few that seemed promising to me. Susan’s writing belonged to the latter category. She was a quiet creature and never made any attempt to talk to me unless I asked her something. However, I mentioned to Benjamin accordingly that Susan’s creative and critical writing showed some-real talent.

“She takes after her mother.” Benjamin sighed, as Susan looked out blankly at the traffic.“She used to paint as well. She wanted to be a writer, but folks like us never get a chance to have a career like that, you know.”

“It was you who were not willing to give her a chance”, Susan retorted, quite uncharacteristically  and resumed her blank stare outwards. Benjamin was taken aback  but he tried to ignore this statement and went on talking about other neutral subjects.

    My days at the college began to feel so dry and event-less as I must have remained an ineffectual gentleman for the students and a hopeless bookworm form colleagues. I took to the profession mainly as a means of support for my research studies, and was glad that I could manage things without causing trouble to others. I did try to do my work sincerely and fade away quietly from the lives I came in touch with.

    After the end of the month, Susan was absent in class for a couple days,and I was forced to inquire about this to Benjamin.
                “ She has left home”. It seemed he was not going to say anything further.
                “ But why?” I asked.
                “ I have no idea. I try everything to make my children’s life better, and they just treat me like this”. His eyes glistened.

    I felt any further interrogation would hurt his feelings and remained silent about the matter.
    It was during my weekend visit to a restaurant in the city that I met Susan again. She was sitting in a corner talking with a waiter. When she saw me enter the place, she smiled at me and stood up, so that I had to walk to her.
                “ Hello Susan, how are you? I was wondering what happened to you.”
                “ Hello John. This is my brother Shane.” She introduced the waiter to me.
                “ Hi Shane, I have heard about you from your father”.
                “ Hi John. He is not my father, by the way.” He excused himself to rush towards anewly occupied table.
                “ Please do sit down John, if you don’t mind. I would like to have a word with you”.
    I sat down to have a coffee with her and Susan told me that Shane washer mother’s son out of her first marriage. She told me more about her family,while Shane could only throw helpless glances towards us a midst his busy schedule at the peak hour.

    Their mother’s name was Elizabeth,and she belonged to the rich class. She got married at a very young age to the famous artist Julian Fernandez, whose surrealist paintings adorned our college library  He left her for an elderly actress, old enough to be his grandmother.This shook Elizabeth’s very foundations, beyond repair. She was a small time writer, with some publications in national journals and newspapers. She used to paint, and was hoping to hone up her skills to make career out of it, with the help of Julian. But when Julian left her, she ended up a wreck in her early twenties, with the two year old Shane who was the only reason for her to live.

    Elizabeth tried in vain to get her writings published and to find sponsors to exhibit her paintings  When the going got really tough, she did resort to drugs and drinking  Benjamin found her unconscious on the sidewalk close to his home one day  and took her to the hospital. When she gained consciousness, she talked about Shane. Benjamin took her back to her home, where he found Shane locked up, hungry and scared.

    It did not take Benjamin long to propose to her, and Elizabeth accept edit in her state of confusion. After a year of blissful marriage, problems began to set in. Susan was born, and Elizabeth found it difficult to stay at home and look after the kids all by herself.Benjamin was not in a position to stay away from his work, which offered meager earning. Elizabeth tried to protest, by ignoring Susan and trying to indulge in painting, writing and socializing. This upset Benjamin and there were quarrels on a daily basis for a while. Then Elizabeth became silent and inactive altogether  She was diagnosed clinically depressed and remained a complete recluse for the rest of her life.

                “ She died last year”, Susan summed up the story. “She had violent bouts in the final stage and tried many times to harm Benjamin, accusing him of ruining her life.She attacked him with a knife once and that’s how he lost his fingers. She was locked up in an asylum for a few months where she refused to eat anything and died eventually of a cardiac arrest.”

    I was not sure how to console Susan, but she seemed unshaken. When asked her about the long absence from college, she told me that she had dropped out of the course and is planning go to the USA to stay with Julian Fernandez who has offered to guide her with her painting.

                “ I hate my father touching me with that hand”. She said unemotionally. “Julian is a great artist. Shane hates him, but I get along well with him. I was completely neglected by my mother, and I never liked my father.”

    She bid farewell to me after getting some money from Shane. I wondered why she told me all this if she had already decided to forsake her studies. I tried to convince myself that I had perhaps made an impact to her as a teacher.
    I came home that day with a heavy heart. I tried to philosophize on the futile attempts of us human beings to get a meaning out of life. The Victorian poets did not offer a satisfactory answer to my doubts on such a general condition of life. They seemed to make it sound more complicated, especially the old chap Browning.
    Benjamin remained silent about Susan for the next week. I started paying the full fare to him, but did not think of disappointing him by choosing to travel by bus. He seemed dejected, despite everything.
    I met Shane at the restaurant on Sunday and he told me that Susan had left for the USA. He said he was close to Susan, but she had a very complex character that he failed to comprehend.
“She lives in an imaginary world created for her own sake. She should have completed her studies”, he said.
“She was a very good student”, I was obliged to say.
“I am ashamed to say this, but she is in love with Julian, my father. And it’s he who ruined her. She is living with him as his wife now”.

    I managed to ask him how he was doing, and he said he was sorry about Benjamin  He said he found it difficult to accept Benjamin for some strange reason.
                “ But it was entirely my own fault. I was spoiled by my mother. He gave her a very good life, and she deceived him.”
      I did resist the temptation to ask how,but he continued.
                “ She died by jumping from the terrace of our home, without provocation. After all these long years of happy life… I left the house because I could not stand the memories of our happy times there.”
    I was perplexed, since what he said seemed like an entirely different version of the story Susan told me. I kept my strategic silence, and tried to suppress my curiosity.
                “ It is true that she had some disappointment about not becoming a writer or an artist, but she was always grateful to Benjamin for saving us at a crucial time  I am at times ashamed of myself, because I could not explain my behavior.I could never connect with Benjamin. We never talked to each other.” At this point  Shane had to attend a customer. I was sipping my coffee and contemplating on leaving the place when he came back to me.
“I did hate his right hand. I was afraid of him touching me with it. He lost the fingers during work, when he was young. I hate the way he uses it as if it is normal.”

    I bid farewell to Shane in a hurry. I wondered who among Susan and Shane could be considered to have a character more complex! I did not try to find answers to any of my queries in the Victorian poets, and tried to sleep. But the image of Benjamin’s right hand did haunt me in my dreams. I could see how he missed the invisible extensions of the stumps that remained. No matter how and when he lost them, he was definitely still carrying the ghost of his missing fingers with him.
    Did he realize that his ‘touch’ was an offense to both his children? Had it been the same for Elizabeth?Was he after all an innocent man, or did he hide his dark shades the way he tried to hide his hand in his trousers’ pocket? I never even imagined that the loss of a couple of fingers can make a man’s personality so mysterious.

    I was a lot troubled the next morning when I got into Benjamin’s car.His face was swollen as if he spent an entire night crying or drinking. I looked at his right hand to make sure that the entire issue of the missing fingers was not an illusion. It seemed that with time, the stumps have got used to their fate that they were willing to take extra pain to make up for the missing parts.
                “ I'm afraid this is going to be our last ride in this car”. Benjamin spoke at last,as we neared the college.
                “ What happened, Benjamin?’ I asked
                “ I have to sell this car. I am leaving this place. I've made a mess of my life here. I need to escape.”
    Escape from what? I wondered so, but did not ask him that. But I mustered courage to ask another question.
                “Benjamin,I would like to ask you a question if you wouldn't mind it. How did you lose your fingers?”
                “Oh,I didn't lose them. I was born without them.” He said.
    The car stopped in front of the gate and I got out. Benjamin got out of the car as well, like he did on the first day. I gave him the fare. His right hand took it and went back to the trousers pocket.
                “Let us hope to meet again somewhere”. I extended my right hand towards him. He took his right hand out of the pocket to shake my hand. As I shook hands with him, I wondered whether I just touched his deepest hurt.

End of Guest Post

My thanks to Dr. Varghese for allowing me to publish this story.  I hope to read a lot more of his work in the future.   This story was first published in Four Quarters Magazine, August 2012.

Mel u


"Great Expectations" by Graham Connors

"Great Expectations" by Graham Connors (2012, 5 pages)


30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy with a foreword by John Walsh

The Irish Quarter


Graham Connors






There are thirty stories in 30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers.   (I totally endorse purchase of this very fairly priced collection and will provide a publisher's 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..   Agreeing with John Walsh, I think this book could well be a collector's item one day.  

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 on 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.   Because of the high quality of the stories and the collection's  ability to acquaint me with contemporary Irish short stories, I now plan to post individually on all of the stories in the collection.

Upon completion of this project, I will list my top five stories.

"Great Expectations" by Graham Connors is a very well written thoroughly entertaining account of a young man's first sexual encounter, with his oh so sexy girl friend in her parents house when her parents, especially her very scary father, are out for the night.   There is a lot of what I call Irish slang in the stories in the collection.   As I was reading "Great Expectations" I needed to Google "the jacks" as Irish slang to see what his girl friend was doing when she ran out to the jacks, i. e. the C. R. as is said in Tagalog slang.  

We can feel his anxiety and self criticism as he is in her bed room with her half naked and all he can find to talk about is the posters on her wall.  The girl says she wants them to watch a porno movie she got from her 15 year old brother's room, to see what he is into.   When she "slapped the gob" on him I think I knew what that was.  We see him get more nervous, and aroused, as it looks like sex is actually going to happen.   He thinks about the things his buddies have told him about girls.  Then something terrible happens, no her father does not burst in with a gun, and it all goes flat.


"Great Expectations" by Graham Connors was a very well done, totally entertaining, very visual and funny story that I greatly enjoyed reading.  

Author Data (from 30 Under 30)

Graham Connors is 29 years old and has previously published in wordlegs.com and in Link magazine.  He has successfully staged his first play, The Mortal Pitch, in both Wexford and Dublin.   He is from County Wexford but moved to Dublin for college and has yet to find his way back.  

You can find more information on 30 Under Thirty:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers at the web page of Doire Press.  

Mel u


"How To Make An Omelette After You Have Eaten Everything" by Michael Shanks

"How To Make An Omelette After You Have Eaten Everything" by Michael Shanks (2012, 2 pages)


30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy with a foreword by John Walsh

The Irish Quarter


Michael Nauhten Shanks


"He cracked the first egg with his long fingernails. A pure Mikado yellow knot of tissue and sponge fell out.  He looked closer and saw it was a vole".



There are thirty stories in 30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers.   (I totally endorse purchase of this very fairly priced collection and will provide a publisher's 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..   Agreeing with John Walsh, I think this book could well be a collector's item one day.  

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 on 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.   Because of the high quality of the stories and the collection's  ability to acquaint me with contemporary Irish short stories, I now plan to post individually on all of the stories in the collection.

Upon completion of this project, I will list my top five stories.

"How To Make An Omelette After You Have Eaten Everything" by Michael Shanks is a completely fascinating work of flash fiction.   Lenin famously said "You cannot make an omelette without cracking a few eggs"   but he never had one like we find in this wonderfully bizarre work of magic realism.   In an effort to "figure it out", and because I liked it a lot, I have read it five times.   I do not want to tell much of the plot, it is only two pages and flash fiction, as many have said, approximates poetry and does not admit of intelligent summery.   I will tell a bit so you can get a small feel for it.   The story opens, I think, with a suicide attempt that fails when the rope breaks.  It might be a dream or an hallucination of some kind, the story has a circular structure which lends to that view.    The man after failing at suicide decides to make an omelette (this may also be an extended dream of some sort)   As he cracks the eggs he finds very strange contents.   In one of them he finds a "perfectly miniaturized elephant".     As the contents of each egg was revealed (you need to read this story yourself!) I had a great time pondering what the contents might signify.  I came up with no answers but that is OK as I would not have liked the story nearly as much if I thought I understood it!

I will say "How To Make An Omelette After You Have Eaten Everything" by Michael Shanks is for sure the strangest 19 out of 30 I have so far read.   I would love to  read more of his work.

You can find more information on 30 Under Thirty:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers at the web page of Doire Press.  

Author Data-From 30 Under 30

Michael Naghten Shanks is a 25 year old writer from Dublin.   He holds a B.A. in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin.  His writing has featured online and in print.

He is the assistant editor of The Bohemyth-Literary Journal, an online literary journal publishing short stories, flash fiction and photography on a regular basis.   It appears to me to be a potentially major source of quality literature and I will be following it closely.


Mel u








Thursday, November 29, 2012

Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle

Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle (2007, 282 pages)

The Irish Quarter

I am looking for reading suggestion for contemporary Irish novels



Paula Spencer is a sequel to The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, with eight years gone by.   (My post of The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is here.)   Paula's abusive husband has been dead for almost a decade now and she is still single.  Her four kids are growing up fast.   Her daughter has followed her footsteps into alcoholism and one of her sons is a heroin addict.  Paula has been sober for four months and five days as Paula Spencer opens.  The Celtic Tiger is riding high during this period.   One of Paula's old cleaning lady cohorts is now rich enough to buy a second apartment, this time one in Bulgaria.    Dublin seems to Paula to becoming over run with foreigners and shockingly to some black people.   We can see this kind of bothers Paula but she deals with it.   She still cleans houses and offices but she has become a supervisor at the service that cleans offices.   She is still a spectator into the lives of those better off than her by looking at their houses and offices when they are not home.   There are a lot of really telling class indicators in the novel.

It was sad to see her daughter headed down the same path as Paula and any parent can feel the heart ache of a son hooked on heroin who steals the family TV to feed his habit.  Paula still fancies men and even talks about them pretty frankly with her teenage daughter in which they discuss men they consider possible "rides".   She is a little worried one of her sons might be gay. (I have learned lots of new slang from Doyle's novel and I know now that if you want to offer to take someone somewhere in your car in Dublin, you do not say "would you like me to give you a ride?".)

I am trying to decide if I like Paula.   Being blunt, looks wise it sounds like she is not bad for her age, she is pretty smart, she never reads of course.   She seems to have preserved her ability to enjoy the pleasures of life.  She has a sense of humor.   She was over all a terrible mother but we can make excuses for her and we want to.   I imagined Paula cleaning our house and wondered what she thought.   She would probably say "I wonder if he really reads all these books and the three teenage girls seem a bit spoiled and the cats for sure are."   Maybe she wonders if we look down on her because of her long history of drinking and her family troubles.   

For sure first read The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and if you like it, most people do, then read Paula Spencer.   Doyle has written two other trilogies and I bet there will be a third Paula Spencer novel.   I hope so and I hope she is OK.


Official Author Bio 

Roddy Doyle is the author of nine novels, a collection of stories, and Rory & Ita, a memoir of his parents. He has written five books for children and has contributed to a variety of publications including The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Metro Eireann and several anthologies. He won the Booker Prize in 1993, for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
Roddy has written for the stage and his plays include Brownbread and Guess Who’s Coming For The Dinner. He co-adapted with Joe O’Byrne his novel The Woman who Walked into Doors and he co-wrote with Bisi Adigun a new version of The Playboy of the Western World.
He also wrote the screenplays for The Snapper, The Van, Family, When Brendan Met Trudy and he co-wrote the screenplay for The Commitments.
He lives and works in Dublin

Mel u


"To Chapel Haven" by Neil J. Burns

"To Chapel Haven" by Neil J. Burns (2012, 6 pages)


30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy with a foreword by John Walsh

The Irish Quarter


Neil J. Burns


"The Stalwart was a worthy ship and praised by all who sailed on her; but I, Manus Sullivan, a practicing physician of some five years now, was not of sea-faring confidence"


There are thirty stories in 30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers.   (I totally endorse purchase of this very fairly priced collection and will provide a publisher's 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..   Agreeing with John Walsh, I think this book could well be a collector's item one day.  

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 on 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.   Because of the high quality of the stories and the collection's  ability to acquaint me with contemporary Irish short stories, I now plan to post individually on all of the stories in the collection.

Upon completion of this project, I will list my top five stories.

"To Chapel Haven" by Neil J. Burns  is the first work in the collection, and my guess it is the only one, I have so far read that is historical fiction, set  in 1912.  It is the story of a physician who has just returned to England from Canada to attend the funeral of a relative.  While making the passage he reads The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.   While on the long sea voyage Manus has lots of time for reflections on his life.  As I read this I thought he could have been the ship doctor on the Pequod, if there had been one!  He loves Moby Dick, as do I.   He thinks about his home a small town in Quebec and his wife and son.   He begins to reflect on the family he grew up in.   The diction is old fashioned and in the style of an educated man of the times.   We are there as he unites with family members he has not seen in many years.   

There is a twist ending and I will leave it unspoiled.

"To Chapel Haven" by Neil J. Burns does a marvelous job of bringing the narrator and his time to life.  I enjoyed reading it and thought Burns did a great job in depicting the inner world of Manus Sullivan.

I certainly hope to read more the work of Neil J. Burns in the future.

Author Data (From 30 Under 30)

Neil J. Burns is from North Antrim and has lived in Belfast for over ten years.   The has published in several journals.   He has recently finished his first novella and is working on his first play with a theater production company in Belfast.

He maintains a very interesting blog, Belfast is My Mojo.

You can find more information on 30 Under Thirty:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers at the web page of Doire Press.  

Mel u







Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Counterparts" by James Joyce

"Counterparts" by James Joyce   (from Dubliners, 1914, 15 pages)


"Fathers and Sons" Chapter 21 of Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd (1995)

Some Reflections on the Greatest of Irish Writers
The Irish Quarter

"Counterparts"


My Prior Posts on James Joyce

 Ireland has a population of 4.6 million people.   The earth about seven billion.   The most influential novelist of the 20th century (and beyond), the greatest and most influential poet, the most influential playwright since Shakespeare, and the author of the most important collection of short stories are all from Ireland.   This covers the whole world, not just the English speaking part of it.   Why did this happen in a country with 0.15 percent of the world's population?    If you look at writers considered of world class today, a grossly disproportionate number of them are  Irish.   To bring things close to home, here in the Philippines we have about 90 million people but we have no world class writers.  (Some will insist Juan Rizal is a world class writer but this is really just flag waving.)   India with a billion people has fewer world class writers than Ireland   Maybe England and the United States taken together, go ahead and throw in Canada and Australia also, might be able to match Ireland in a world literary show down but The Reading Life would be in the Irish bleachers.   Lots of very erudite people have tried to explain this and maybe I will also one day but not yet.   Why this is true is up for debate, that it is  true is not.

The most influential collection of short stories ever written anywhere in the world ever is Dubliners by James Joyce (1882 to 1941).     I have been reading a lot in Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd lately.   I have found his post colonial reading of Irish literature brilliantly illuminating.
He says one of the core themes of Irish literature is the weak or missing Father.   "Counterpoints" is the perfect story to illustrate this.   The central character is a clerk, he copies contracts (this was a big source of work in offices before copy machines and printers) and he works for a petty bully who constantly badgers him and often threatens to get him fired.   He has a wife and family but his real passion is hanging out with his mates at the pub drinking.   At home he makes up for his feeling of powerlessness by abusing his family.   This, as Kiberd explains, a commentary on the Irish revolutions against the British.   Those in the revolts had no actual plans to change society they just wanted the British out.

"Counterparts" is, of course, a perfectly crafted story that tells us a great deal about the lives of the man, his bosses (no more than petty workers themselves) and his family.  

I have so far posted on five of the five-teen stories in Dubliners.   I hope to post on all of them by May 15, 2013.  

Mel u

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis-The First Two Stories

The Fears of Mrs Orlando" by Lydia Davis  (2010, 6 pages)
"Story" by Lydia Davis (2010, 7 pages)


A Reading Life Project






"Mrs. Orlando's world is a dark one"

Lydia Davis is a very highly regarded translator of Flaubert and Proust and has a very elite status among short story writers.    I have decided to read all of the stories in her collection, 200 of in all.   The longest is 40 pages and the shortest is two sentences.   I will post on a few of them and upon completion of the volume, it might take a month or it might take a decade as things have been going, I will post an overview of it.

I first read her work in a collection of short stories from The Parisian Review.  I also read a in the same volume a commentary she did on another writer's story and I said I would love to take a class in the short story from her.

As I read "The Fears of Mrs. Orlando", set in contemporary New York City, I thought to myself, the American presidential elections just being over, here is a woman who for sure did not vote for President Obama and probably believes he was born in Kenya.

Mrs. Orlando, of course it also made me think of the Virginia Woolf novel and the city in Florida, is a mature woman with grown children.  She lives by herself in New York City.   She is afraid of everything.   Inside her house she has all the dangers marked out but once out of the house she is in a world of fear.  The biggest thing she is afraid of is black people.   She has a morbid near pathological fear of them.  Her grown children more or less humor her fears while trying to be as rational with her as they can.   In one really striking incident, she is out shopping with her daughters and she imagines a black man reached out from under her car and grabbed her leg.  It looks like this is a complete hallucination.

"Story" is a 21st century update of Dorothy Parker's classic short story "The Telephone Call".

I liked both of these stories a lot and I look forward to working my way through the collection.


Please share your thoughts on the stories and translation of Lydia Davis with us.

"I like her cat"-Carmilla


   Mel u

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle (1997,242 pages)

The Irish Quarter

In Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne we read about the upper crust of Dublin society.   The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle is about their cleaning lady.  

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle is a really good novel.  It is told in the first person by Paula Spencer.   We first meet her at age 39, one year a widow with four kids and a very bad drinking habit.   She married at 18 to a man who abused her terribly.   It is a deeply done portrayal of a woman who blames herself for the horrible abuse she suffers  at the hands of her husband.   Paula is telling the story via an internal monologue and she flashes back and forth in time.   This is a very intense story of the life of Paula.   Doyle does a brilliant job of bringing her totally to life for us.  It is also a stark portrait of a culture that traps women in abusive relationships and teaches them to see their husband's abuse as their fault.  

There is really nothing out of the ordinary about Paula.   She loves her kids, has girl friends, and loves her husband and admires his macho good looks.   The culture also traps men in the role of thugs who need to prove their manhood through violence and heavy drinking.  The things that happen in the novel are not meant to shock us, there are plenty of TV shows that depict much worse.  It is the marvelous many layered portrait of Paula that makes this novel so great.  It is also a story of class stratification in Ireland.   A doctor takes a look at her and dismisses her as a drinker.  Children are judged by the shoes they wear.   Paula is not really bitter about her life, she just accepts it as normal.  Her husband is not just a monster but a multi- faceted person in a way more trapped than Paula.   I took no pleasure in seeing his terrible fate.  She cleans the houses of rich people but she does not really mind.   

Why is the novel called The Woman Who Walked Into Doors?   It is in part because when her friends would see her with a black eye or busted lip or see her teeth gone she would tell them she had walked into a door.   But it is also about a woman with real courage to keep going on with her life.

There is profane language in the book.  

I will, I hope, very soon read Doyle's followup book, Paula Spencer, which takes us eight years ahead in her life.   I am looking forward to catching up with Paula.   

Official Author Bio 

Roddy Doyle is the author of nine novels, a collection of stories, and Rory & Ita, a memoir of his parents. He has written five books for children and has contributed to a variety of publications including The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Metro Eireann and several anthologies. He won the Booker Prize in 1993, for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
Roddy has written for the stage and his plays include Brownbread and Guess Who’s Coming For The Dinner. He co-adapted with Joe O’Byrne his novel The Woman who Walked into Doors and he co-wrote with Bisi Adigun a new version of The Playboy of the Western World.
He also wrote the screenplays for The Snapper, The Van, Family, When Brendan Met Trudy and he co-wrote the screenplay for The Commitments.
He lives and works in Dublin

Mel u