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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Desmond Hogan Week Begins on The Irish Quarter

The Irish Quarter Year Two
:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1
Desmond Hogan Week-June 18 to June 24

Shauna Gilligan's Posts on Desmond Hogan

Please consider participating in The Irish Quarter:   A Celebration of the Irish Short Story.   If you are interested all you need do is to post on an Irish short story or related matter such as a biography of Elizabeth Bowen and let me know about it.   Guests posts are also welcome.

I first heard of Desmond Hogan through an article about him in the online edition of The Manchester Guardian.   The Manchester Guardian has the best literary section of any online paper in the world, in my opinion.   When I saw that they had an article about an Irish writer of course I read it and I was really intrigued by what it said about Desmond Hogan (1950, County Galway, Ireland).   I felt a small personal connection with him when I read he often swims up to two hours a day, partially for exercise and partially to have a time to himself to think.   I have been doing pretty much the same thing for a long time.   I also discovered he had a strong interest in Gypsies and by coincidence maybe a decade ago I got very interested in Gypsies after reading a great book Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca.   I ended up reading all of the books I could find in English on Gypsies.   Given this I felt I should consider reading some of his short stories for The Irish Quarter.   I am pretty much 95 percent just reading works I can read on my Ipad and I was happy to see there was a kindle edition of his short stories available so after some consulting with Shauna Gilligan I purchased the collection.   

I think his most famous novel is his debut work, The Ikon Maker, a ground breaking novel about a mother's refusal to accept her son's homosexuality.   He is widely traveled and has received a number of literary awards.   

There are thirty-four stories in Lark's Eggs:  New and Selected Stories.  My plan is to post on  two works  a day for the next week.   Upon completion of these posts, I will attempt an overview of his collection of stories.   My intention  for collections of short stories is to revisit the collections I especially liked again during The Irish Quarter Year Three starting in March 2013 and I will come back to this collection in 2013 to post on additional stories.   I will later list  a link where you can listen to an interview with Hogan.

Today I will post on the lead story in the collection "Blow-Ball" and "Teddyboys".

"Blow- Ball"  (24 pages)

I will say reading the short stories of Hogan will require and well reward your full attention.   Everything I post on I will have read at least twice.    I am very much an outsider where Irish literary culture is concerned.  I have never been to Ireland, I do not know Irish slang, I have only the barest outlines of a knowledge of Irish history (I am working on it), and I do acknowledge that there are local references in stories that probably go right beyond me.   Sometimes being an outsider is a good thing as I have no sides to be on, no prejudices, and am very open to the wonders of the Irish short story.  This story was written when Hogan was seventeen and shows the strong influence of Katherine Mansfield.   

"Blow-Ball" is a story about a group of children gathered at a famous house.   The story kind of centers on a girl "Bubbles, whose hair was as bog cotton with the sun in it".   OK my first reaction is what is "bog cotton"?   There are no bogs near where I grew up and where I now live but a quick search seems to mean it was wild flowing in the wind hair.   

The house is in the Georgian style and it is late summer.   There are group of kids.   There is still gentle Pee-Wee ("Pee-Wee was still gentle then"-the compression of history in this line shows the touch of a master.)   Pee-Wee is making a study of ghosts.  There is Pee-Wee's best friend  Dony who reaches ghosts through his "oddities and at thirteen is the oldest in the group.   There are others in the group but these three are the leaders.   The house there at is a bit of a mystery.   Is it an old abandoned mansion or is it a historical landmark?   Long history of generations of landlords living there had given it a supernatural history.   A book had been written about the house (I could not help but think of Elizabeth Bowen's book on her house).   The author of the book, Lady Loughbown is thought to still be there as a ghost and the children want to see her.  The kids come to the house lots of times.   Part of the greatness of this story is seeing the children develop and seeing the boys come to see that Bubbles is a girl and that matters.   Bubbles does not come from the best of families, one of her uncles has been in trouble for "interfering with young children" and her "older sister had shamefully had twins".   This puzzled me, was it shameful to have twins or was she unmarried.   One day something big happens, Bubbles tells the group she has seen Lady Loughbown, dead long ago.  Some believe her but some insist she is lying.   The ending is a mixture of tragic anti-climax and life moving on.   This story is about a lot and it is about itself.   It is about class, growing up, the special feelings children have for their best friends just before they grow up, it is about ghosts and history and Ireland.   A wonderful story in which nothing really big happens because nothing big has to happen.   

"Teddyboys" (34 pages)

My first thought as I began this story was what exactly is a Teddyboy.   Here is the meaning of the term:  

(Teddyboy) The British Teddy Boy subculture is typified by young men wearing clothes that were partly inspired by the styles worn by dandies in the Edwardian period

The story is narrated by a  nine year old boy.   All of the teddyboys in the small Irish town are gone but for Jamesy Clark who stayed to take care of his mother.   There is the debris of poverty in the streets of the town.  Jamesy life is dominated by his need to care for this mother.   The beauty of a river contrasts with the ugliness of the town, at least on the bad side.   The boy seems himself as an emmisary of the gods, taking it as his responsibly to look after Jamesy, he loves him for his beauty.

As the boy makes his observation the town is somehow transformed into a magic place where  people are not old, they are ancient, where a pike can be an omen of the divine.     The heat is terrible this summer.   Hogan just does a great job letting us see the town.   There is deep history in the town and the story concerning Ireland's struggle for indepedence.   Maybe Teddy Boys are the reincarnation of old heroes from forgotten by most wars.  The boy is horrified when Jamesy begins dating a tailor's daughter, not a woman fit for a god.   We wonder if this is a story about a young man trying to deal with his developing homosexuality.   
The story takes an autobiographical turn when the boy writes a never to be mailed letter to Jamsey and signs it "Desmond".  

I loved these lines:

Jamsey had a row with his girlfriend.   That was obvious when the sun shone again.   An old woman, member of myraid confraternities, reported that he spat on the pavement in front of her.   

This is a magical story with a tragic beauty in which a young boy's love raises what seems a very ordinary man to heroic status only to take a fall.

Hogan is a very compressed writer.   There is huge meaning packed in the simplest of his sentences.   

Both of our stories from today were about kind of different children, children just starting to develop their sexuality and trying to figure out the adult world they might have to join one day.  The stories are deeply evocative of old magic.

I urge you to read Shauna Gilligan's great introductory post for background information and I strongly urge all lovers of short stories done at the highest level of art to read the stories of Desmond Hogan.

Mel u

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