Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The Illusion of Freedom" by Shauna Gilligan

"The Illusion of Freedom" by Shauna Gilligan (2012, 11pages)

Irish Short Stories Week Year Two
March 11 to May 1
Emerging Irish Women Writers

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two, now  set to run until May 1.   To participate all you need do is to post on one Irish Short story or a related matter and let me know about it.   You are also welcome to guest post.  You need not follow my schedule at all.  I am updating all posts by participants periodically and at the end of the event I will do a master post spotlighting the blogs or writings of each participant and it will have  permanent place on the fixed pages below my header picture.

Shauna Gilligan is the fifth Emerging Irish Woman Author on whom I have posted since March 23.   I will be posting on emerging Irish Women writers for the remainder of this event.

Born in Dublin, Gilligan has worked and lived in Mexico, Spain, India and the UK.   She is currently completing a PhD in Writing at the University of Glamorgan, Wales.   Her work has been published widely and has given public readings of her fiction and has presented on writing at conferences in Ireland, UK, Germany and the USA.  Her first novel Happiness Comes From Nowhere will be published by Ward Wood Publishing in June 2012.

One of the hardest things to do in a few pages of fiction is to make your characters uniquely individualized without making them seem outside of the range of the commonplace human experience while creating a vision of people  in whom we can see ourselves. It is this challenge that Gilligan has master brilliantly in "The Illusion of Freedom".   

I have been thinking a lot while reading and trying to post on Irish Short Stories for the last three week about Frank Connor's famous central thesis of his book The Lonely Voice:  A Study of the Short Story (a brilliant and maddening book and the only one worth reading on the short story) that the short story is uniquely about what he called"submerged groups".    By "submerged groups" he means marginalized people belonging to occupations, social groups, or ethic backgrounds that leave them with little voice in society.  A central failing in O'Connor's work, in my opinion, is revealed in his treatment of women but in even his failure he helps us see that one of the greatest"values" in the short story and really in all of literature, is the way the very best writings let us learn to seethe humanity in the Other.  

 I think Gilligan has wonderfully shown us in “The Illusion of Freedom” that the most ordinary seeming person, one who epitomizes normality and main stream social values is, if one goes further into the depths of their lives and characters is also a submerged person.   I will try to say briefly why I think Gilligan’s story is such a powerful work without spoiling the pleasure many others  will have when they read it for the first time.   The story, set in the 1970s in  Dublin and told in the voice of a woman who has just had her first child, a son, is about,  among other things, what can happen to the dynamics in a marriage when a son is born and the wife comes to love the son more than her husband.   Gilligan does a flat out brilliant job of showing us how this changes the relationship of the man and woman and how the sense of the limitless possible futures for a child helps the woman and her sister feel young and freer than they otherwise might.   I cringed when I read this perfect conversation:

Don’t spoil him like that. He’ll turn into a mama’s boy.” His voice is gruff without a trace of how it once whispered.
“Like you?” you reply, not able to look at him, pursing your lips as you apply pressure on each stroke of the boy’s hair.

  The story takes a dramatic turn on the first day of school is all I will say.  I want to quote a bit more from the shimmering prose of Gilligan so that you can get a feel for her work.

Laid out in a neatly penned list, your life is perfectly arranged. There’s an oil crisis, people marching the streets and you hear on the radio of women your age gathering together, eyes painted shocking blues with long lashes. They travel up North on trains from the Republic and bring back illegal contraceptives. All the talk is of the pill as they claim the right to their bodies, fists held high.
Still, you remain here, silent, with the boy holding the household together like the rough tacking you do on the skirts you make. Sepp works in Dublin for a pharmaceutical company. You treat yourself to a gin and tonic every other day. It’s a sunny, south-facing house where you are. On a narrow road, which leads, taking a left, into Dublin city centre, or right, to the Dublin Mountains. To the boy it’s the only home he’s known. There are times when you smile at each other, glad that you have your own memories of different homes where the boy had no part. Other times you forget about the selves you had before his arrival. You’ve overseen the rewiring of the original 1930s mess, tamed the wild garden. Sepp’s clearly made his mark on the house: he painted the door frames cherry red, the garage door canary yellow. And as you prowl the house, pulling the superser heater behind you for warmth, it comes to you: your duty is to nurture him, put a stamp of personality on him. It’s a right transferred by the blood of your womb in a code deciphered by mother and son. Everything written from the moment of conception: his due date, his birth date, his love life, his career, his death.

The  husband comes to stand for, this comes through clearly in Gilligan's depiction of his job and routine, the static closed in future that life brings down on most of us after a while, the son is the limitless freedom of a blank canvas.

Gilligan has kindly done a very insightful guest post on  Orfhlaith Foyle's short story collection Somewhere in Minnesota for Irish Short Story Week Year Two.   I  will be publishing a short story of hers very soon also and will  post on at least one more of her stories during ISSW Year Two..   She may also do a post on Desmond Hogan during Desmond Hogan Week.

There is a link to "Illusion of Freedom" and several  others stories on  Shauna's Writing.
She also has a very interesting blog where she talks about the craft and business of writing.

I am very glad I got the opportunity to read and post on "Illusion of Freedom".  If you are "married with children" you for sure will nod your head in recognition while you read it.  It is a wonderful story and was a pure delight to read.   I read it three times

Mel u

1 comment:

shaunag said...

Thanks, Mel, for reading and posting on my work. I am so glad you enjoyed it. It's fascinating what others see in our work.