March 1 to April 7
Guy le Jeune
Because there are a lot of very interesting things pending in Irish Short Story Month I am extending it until April 7. If you are interested in participating please e mail me.
Today I want to talk about a story by Guy le Jeune that was runner up in the 2011 Sean O'Faolain Short Story Competition. In addition to its intrinsic merit and beautiful prose, the story also exemplifies several of the common elements I have seen in many of the Irish short stories I have read so far this month. (I will provide a link where you can read this story.) It is also in accord with the lessons I have learned from my two "big books" on Irish culture, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd and Occasions of Sin - Sex and Society in Modern Ireland by Diamaid Ferriter. I will try to explain what I mean as I talk briefly about the story.
As "Jamesy" opens the title, and in fact the only real person in the story, is riding his old bike in the hills where he lives. Sometimes it takes all his energy, he is far from as young as he once was. Growing up school was very hard for him but there was nothing he could not do with his hands, any kind of machine he could fix from cars, to farm machinery, to bikes. As Jamsey rides through he countryside he sees where she used to live. Telling a bit, Jamsey got a girl pregnant and she went to London to have the baby and it was suggested by the local priest that Jamsey needed to go to get out of town so he went to London also. I want to quote a bit from the story to give you a feel for the marvelous prose of the author and so I can talk about it.
"He had been a drinker years before, when he’d lived in England, when he’d had the legs to hold it. He’d spent his days pushing barrows of muck up steep scaffolding planks and tipping the muck into skips. He’d carried blocks and pipes and clamps, up and down ladders and up and down buildings. His nights were spent with all the other lads from Leitrim and Roscommon, talking about the old place, the Connacht football championship and the day’s winnings and losings on the horses. Jamesy was a Corvagh man and the Aughnasheelin boys would always have a wager with him when the two sides met. He’d not meant to end up in London, but after she’d told him her news, he knew he’d not be welcome in the village.
She’d been sent away to Liverpool to deliver and Father Michael had told Jamesy that he’d be wise to go to England too. "
Let's look at the phrases I have marked. Alcohol, as seen in the stories I have read, seems the life blood of Ireland. Jamesy is depicted a drinker. To be a drinker in Ireland seems to mean that drinking is central to your life, it almost defines you like my reading almost defines me at times. Exile and the power and draw of England is a big factor in Irish literature. Everyone from Ireland who goes always wants to come home just like Jamesy does when his father dies. He also hangs with the lads. We also see the moral code of the society enforced by the priest, usurping the role of the father. The domination of Irish society by the priest is seen by Kiberd and Ferrier as a cause and symptom of the weak Irish father. Sex out side of marriage is seen as a great sin, a woman who gives birth to an illegitimate child brings shame on her family in a culture where sexually active unmarried women were once looked up as little more than prostitutes or as mentally ill.
Jamesy is seen as mental ill, a crazy old man, by he people where he lives. He used to work the farm but once he learned about the dole he quit. He feels the sadness of losing his once great strength. He can still repair things but not like he was could. Above all he is very alone, so alone. He is isolated because he is different, no woman will connect with him at his age and his past, there are no lads to drink with an really not much money for the pubs. He does seem to enjoy riding through the beautifully described Irish countryside.
I will leave the rest of this story untold. There is an inevitability to the ending that gives it great power.
You can read "Jamesy" here.
Guy grew up in the midlands of England, the adopted son of an Irish father and an English mother. He moved to Ireland 24 years ago and lives in County Donegal, although he spends a great deal of time in County Leitrim where he is restoring an 18th Century cottage.
He has worked most of his life in professional theatre, involved in design, production, sound and lighting. He started writing 10 years ago in response to the death of his father and meeting his birth mother for the first time. In 2011 he started a Creative Writing degree with the Open College of the Arts. His second assignment was the short story "Jamesy", which was a runner up in the 2011 Sean O'Faolain Short Story Competition and which he read at the Irish Writers' Centre.
Last year he wrote Small Town Removal after witnessing the events of a removal one afternoon in Ballinamore, Leitrim. Small Town Removal was placed third in the inaugural Costa Book Awards, Short Story Competition.
Guy is currently curating a reminiscence theatre project, A Sense of Memory. He has just completed the script for the theatre phase of the project entitled 'On the Camel's Hump', a reference to the old bridge connecting Strabane in Tyrone with Lifford in Donegal. More information about the project can be found here http://www.
Guy is also working on a novel, based on his experiences of living in London in the 1980's, entitled Essex Road.
Guy is a member of the North West Writers in Donegal, keeps bees and plays the guitar when nobody is listening.
Guy's website is http://guylejeune.com/
There are links to more his his stories on his webpage.
I greatly enjoyed reading this story and endorse it to all lovers of the form. I hope to post on a collection of his short stories one day.
The author has kindly consented to do a Q and A Session for Irish Short story Month so please look for that soon.