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

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

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"-
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
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

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?”
            “Beautiful around here.”
            “You're local, right?”
            She nodded and sipped her drink. A waiter left another one beside her.          
“It's on me’” Jason said.
            “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

Esther Waters by George Moore

Esther Waters by George Moore (1894, 432 pages)

I have recently read a number of short stories by George (1852 to 1933, County Mayo, Ireland-there is some background information on him in my prior posts).    I greatly admire his work.   George Moore is considered the originator of the English realistic novel.  He greatly influenced James Joyce.      He was a deep student of French writers and contemporary art.  Esther Waters seems to be the consensus status (not a universally agreed to matter) best Moore novel.    The George Moore Society says it is his only canon status work but they concede it is not much read.

For its time this set in London novel about an unwed mother left on her own to raise her child was quite shocking.   Esther Waters comes from a poor family, her mother has had 12 children.    Her father is a drunken abusive brute.   The plot is exciting.   For sure you will care about Esther.   She is not your wimpy angelic seduced and abandoned heroine.    This girl has some serious spunk and back bone and when she gets mad she is not afraid to tell of anyone.   Esther leaves her parents house a young age to go into service as a kitchen helper.  She ends up getting impregnated by one of the male servants and when her employer finds out she is pregnant, she fires her but does give her a decent severance.   She goes back to her parents and her father finds out he has some money and he begins to demand she give it to him so he can drink at the pub with his friends.   He abuses her and he may be sexually molesting her younger sister.  Her mother is also pregnant.   While Esther is in the hospital after giving birth, her younger sister comes and tells her there mother died giving birth and all of the family is leaving for Australia but there is no money to take her.  The sister ends up talking her into giving her two pounds to pay her fare to Australia.   She promises to write or even maybe send for her and the baby but she never hears from her family again.  

There is so much great detail about the life of Esther.   Some of this book is totally stunning in its expose of how poor unmarried manless women were treated in London in the 1890s.  In one really sad scene a number of women are put out in the street from the birthing ward who can barely walk because other people need their beds.   We come to see that when a woman who has just had a child becomes a wetnurse, a pretty well paying job, it meant her baby would be put out for care and would probably die.   Esther left her job as a wet nurse when her employer, the babies of two prior wet nurses in her employment died already, refuses to let her go see her son when he is sick.   The keeper of the baby tells her that if she gives her five pounds (a month pay) she will take the baby off her hands.   Esther knows this is a death sentence for the baby.

There is a lot in this novel.   Moore was deeply into horse rating and  we learn a lot about racing and betting in this book.   We learn what it is like to own and manage a public house.

Esther is very religious and never loses her faith.   We also see how faith can be used for cruelty.

Esther Waters is not found on any great books list.   There are flaws in the book.   The portrayal of the character of her son is not that strong and I think some people will get bored with all of  the horse racing material.

Historically this is a very important book.   It is often compared to the work of Zola.   Some of the insights into the characters are just totally brilliant.   The level of the prose is very high.   Moore was a conscious artist.   I think most people will be glad they read this novel.  I know I am.   If you do get bored, just keep going as it will get interesting again soon.  I will be for sure reading more Moore soon.

Mel u

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Shoemaker" by Seamus O'Kelly

"The Shoemaker" by Seamus O'Kelly (1918, 20 pages)

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

"Welcome, Cousin"-
A  Clurichaun
Please consider joining us for this event.     Everything you need to participate is in 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.  

"The Weaver's Grave" by Seamus O'Kelly (1878 TO 1918, County Galloway) is considered one of the greatest of all Irish short stories.   I posted previously on that story and "The Rector" and "A Wayside Burial".   Semaus O'Kelly's stories are a great way to learn about Irish folklore and customs and they are also beautifully written.   "The Shoemaker" is a really fun story to read.   It is about two shoemakers, a real one and a cousin to the leprechaun, the clurichaun.   Leprechauns are famous as shoemakers and the clurichaun also is a shoemaker, but not for humans or fairies.   He makes shoes for swallows.    I wondered when I read this why swallows needed shoes and the story explains this to us, perfectly plausible of course.   It seems in their migrations the swallows need to cross the Dead Sea, and they cannot fly over it so the clurichauns have set up shop on the banks of the dead sea, with millions of tiny shoes made just for swallows.   We learn this story from a human shoemaker who is telling the story to one of his customers.   He also tells a lot of other very interesting stories about greedy and good landlords, how cats discovered electricity, and other marvelous facts.   According to tradition  clurichaun are drunk most of the time and have nasty attitudes.  
"Just what we don't need, one of
Rory's Cousins"-Carmilla

The story is very "old fashioned: in its narrative framing through the use of the device of one person in the story telling a story to another.  

This story is contained in The Waysiders which is a public domain work and can be easily downloaded.

Mel u

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Atlantic City" by Kevin Barry

"Atlantic City" by Kevin Barry  (2007, 9 pages)

The Irish Quarter
A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July
Book Sale Dublin 1963

Kevin Barry has published two collections of short stories, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies the Island as well as a novel City of Bohane.   He recently won the very prestigious 2012 Sunday Times Private Bank Short Story Award for "Beer Trip to Llandudno", a story I greatly enjoyed.   I also read and posted on his "The Fjord of Killary"  which was published in The New Yorker.   I was very happy yesterday to discover that another one of his short stories, "Atlantic City" was available online.   I confess when I first saw the title I wondered if it was set in New Jersey!

  "Atlantic City" is really about a little kingdom, one set in amusement parlor in a small town in Ireland.   It is the hang out for teenagers, mostly boys but a few girls stop in from time to time.  There is a pool table, a jukebox,  but the center piece is a pinball machine.  Every time someone breaks the high score for the day it sounds out "Atlantic City.   Feel the Force!".   The king of this arcade is James, 19 and described as as big as a van.   He is the champion pool player and is a very dominating monarch.   

The very real fun of this wonderful story is seeing how the boys interact with each other.   Barry brings this arcade completely to life for us.   Things get exciting when some teenage girls stop by, nobody quite knows what they are supposed to do but James thinks he does.   There are reports of some vandalism in the area and a local policeman stops by to rattle some cages and the owner of the place threatens to close it down.   

Official Biography

Kevin Barry is the author of two short story collections, There Are Little Kingdoms (2007), for which he was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and Dark Lies (2012). His story ‘Beer Trip to Llandudno’, from Dark Lies, won the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story AwardCity of Bonhane, his first novel, was published in 2011.  He is also a screenwriter, and his plays have been produced in the US and Ireland. He lives in County Sligo.

I liked how Barry handled the ending of the story.   He tells us what happens to some of the boys in the arcade and it was very moving.