It was during Irish Short Story Month III in March of 2012 that I first read a Short Story by Shauna Gilligan. Since then I have posted on several of her Short Stories and her wonderful debut novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere. She has been kind enough to contribute three guest posts on Irish writers to The Reading Life. She also participated in two question and answer sessions. Her website is very valuable to all interested in Irish literature and beyond.
Knowing I wanted to once again feature her work during ISSM VIII she kindly gave me access to a very interesting just published story “Thirty-Five-A-Night”, told from the point of view of a woman involved in a long term affair, neither party is married. They mostly see each other on weekends.
Gilligan does an elegant and very intuitive introduction to the story in which we come to understand the relationship.
“We have our routine, John and I. Every Saturday night we follow winding roads to an old hotel or a long-standing bed-and-breakfast in the countryside where we watch, in streak-free mirrors, the scenes we create on king-sized beds. In Dingle I am Madonna; in Cork I become Marianne Faithful; in Galway I have the allure of Eva Braun. John dons one of his moustaches and heeled boots; a signet ring and a medallion; a tasselled studded jacket. For those few hours we are anywhere and anyone but civil servants who live in old houses with aging parents. But this weekend we’re not in the country; for €35 a night we can stay in Dublin and that’s what John’s decided. And so we cruise through the Phoenix Park in John’s shiny Volvo, see a couple jogging in matching tracksuits, pass pretty white benches. There are people curled up on them, already sleeping. I think of what Maeve, my work pal said to me earlier: if I could describe John in one word, then I’d know. I sorted through heaps of payroll claims before I landed on a word. Considerate. Maeve chewed on the lid of her pen. “You mean in that he considers what you like, that sort of thing?” “Yeah.” “Sounds like the marrying type.” More than being a wife, I want to feel what it is to be the woman for whom a man would give up his life. We cruise out through the ornate gates of the Park and a flutter of excitement runs through me. I feel the throb and pinch of new patent heels on my feet, think of the new lacy pants from Marks in my bag.”
From the references to Madonna, Marianne Faithful and Eva Braun we can form a guess as to their ages, and maybe we can see how John relates to her sexually and perhaps what fantasies he projects on her. I wondered how she sees the relationship. Tonight John is taking her to a more expensive place than normal, 35 Euros a night. As I follow them into the hotel we gather it is mostly a place for couples looking for privacy for a romantic liaison.
As they register the woman is made to feel that the much younger woman receptionist is almost laughing at her. I have observed people tend to all their lives stay most interested in singers they first encountered in their late teens or twenties. To elaborate Marianne Faithful became famous in Ireland and The UK, less so in America,in the 1960s. Her songs were often very sexual. Given this we can project an age of at least fifty for the couple. Maybe John likes to imagine he is sleeping with one of these singers. The Eva Braun reference would take more explication. Eva's relationship hardly ended well. The narrator somehow is made to feel uncomfortable by the very muted response of the receptionist. Maybe she is projecting her feelings that she should be settled at her age, not going for sex weekends dressing up to please a man. I wonder why John needs this.
The fascinating ending of the story took me deeper into the mind of the narrator. I loved the ending but for sure did not see it coming. I think this would be a very good story for classroom discussion as to the methods Gilligan uses in just a few pages to go so deep.
Shauna Gilligan is a novelist and short story writer from Dublin, Ireland. She has lived and worked in Mexico, Spain, and the UK, and now lives in County Kildare with her family and a black and white cat called Lucky.
She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of South Wales, is a registered teacher with the Teaching Council of Ireland, an active member of the Arts Council of Ireland Writers-in-Prisons Panel and a Professional Mentor with Irish Writers’ Centre. Shauna facilitates creative writing workshops with people of all ages. She teaches students in universities, in the community, and in prison settings.
Shauna enjoys collaborating with visual artists and is particularly interested in exploring the crossover of art and literature in storytelling, the depiction of historical events in fiction, and creative processes.
Her debut novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere was a critical success and the Sunday Independent review declared it to be a “thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging debut novel.”
Shauna is represented by Charlotte Seymour at Andrew Nurnberg Associates International Literary Agency. From the author’s website.
I hope to follow the work of Shauna Gilligan for a long time. Be sure to read her two Q And A sessions and her contributed essays. Writers like Gilligan mean Irish Short Story writers have a future as great as the past