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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Desmond Hogan Week Day Two

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
Day Two

Stories of Innocence and Experience

My posts for Desmond Hogan Week

"The Man From Korea"

"It had been an old custom in Ireland to drive at least one of your family out, to England, to the mental hospital, to sea or to a bad marriage"- from "Jimmy"

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.

Welcome to the second day of Desmond Hogan Week on The Reading Life.  Yesterday I posted on two of his stories, "Blue-Ball" and "Teddyboys".   Both of these stories dealt with the world of children.  I loved both stories, both had a magic feel to them,   Today I will post on three more stories from his 2005 collection, Lark Egg's:  New and Selected Stories.

(For background information on Hogan please see the post by Shauna Gilligan, who has been reading his work for many years.)

"Korea"  (29 pages, originally published in 1989)

This is the story of the memories of a child of his experiences with  an American, who came to Ireland for a while after he served as a pilot in war in Korea.   He first came to Ireland in 1956.   The narrator is now retelling the legend of the man from Korea.   The story is told in the first person.   Hogan has an incredible ability to see the world through the prism of the psyche of a an extraordinary child, one who has seen into the world of adults without being corrupted by them, or maybe one should say not yet.   

"I was five when he came to town (the time is 1956), a child at street corners.   I was an intensely curious child, a seer, one who poked into everyone's house and recalled scandal, chagrin and disgrace.  I know all about the Hennessy and if I don't let me pretend to".

It is not really accurate to see this as told by a five year old child, it is a grown man's memories of himself as a child.   The narrator still has a childlike in some ways feel to him but he also feels ancient. This part of the great wonder of Hogan's story that he can create this multiprismatic  narrative vision.

He fought in the Korea war.  He has been to the scared places of Asia.    He was for sure the first non-Irish person the boy had ever met.

  "He had been an American pilot there.  I'm not sure what he saw but it left his face with a curious neglect of reality:  he stared ahead.   Sometimes a donkey, a flying piece of hay, a budding tree at the end of the street would enthrall him but other wise silence."  

It is never made real clear why the man is there, this is part of the memory of a child narrative structure and makes perfect sense.   He is staying at a boarding house run by the Hennessy sisters, two  ladies whose father had won a big sweepstakes and left them with some pretty good money.  The man from Korea talks to the narrator just like he is an adult.   The talk about Korea, Buddha and magic sunsets that made the man forget war.  The man had blond hair with flecks of gold and silver.   It was as though he were from a painting, his look is that of robust health but his eyes always seem to look out on something malign.   This is a very brilliant image, Hogan not saying as a 1000 other writers would, that the man has an evil look in his eye, he says he is looking out on an evil others do not or cannot see.  We meet the Hennessy ladies, the narrator does a marvelous job of bringing them to life for us.   I wish so much I could have known them.   There is a history of Ireland just in the the 100 or so lines where we first meet them.  I would love to quote it but maybe you will read it yourself one day.    Take my word for it, you will be enthralled.

The man from Korea, Karl, planned to stay just a few week but he ended up staying all summer and a bit of fall.    Part of the great fun of this story is getting to know the Hennessy sisters and seeing their developing interest in the man from Korea.   The narrator only understands a little bit about sex and he sort of thinks the girls may somehow spoil the purity of the man from Korea, a purity that survived a horrible war, or at least in the mind of the narrator.   Karl slowly becomes friends with the people in the pub where they accept him even if he is a "Yank".

I do not want to say to much more about this story.   Hogan makes great use of color imagery, as he did in the prior two stories I posted on.   The story continues on for years after Karl leaves Korea.   There is just so much to like in this story.   There is deep wisdom in this work.   I accept that Hogan had to reach into his own depths to write it.   I have left out a lot of the very interesting and intriguing plot action but this story works on many levels.   I am very glad I read this story and will be thinking about it for a while.  The use of the child narrator is very delicate and refined.

"The Hedgehog"  (19 pages, originally published in 1989)

We do not have hedgehogs here in the Philippines and in fact we do not have many hedges.  I have never seen one but I take it they are pretty common in Ireland and the UK so I have included a picture to let my readers visualize them.   I recalled the great novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery which was one of the very first books I posted on when I began The Reading Life nearly three years ago.


This story is about Dony, a young man on an educational holiday with a Parisian family.   The story takes place in the Cevennes mountains, a place of great beauty in southern France.   Hogan brings the beauty and vibrant colors of the scene to life for us in the opening paragraph.   It is right after the student disturbances of 1968.   The stay in Paris had been very lonely for him.   Most of his time was spent reading glossy French magazines (Dony is Irish) and listening to Wagnar and Beethoven, letting the music "crush his brain".   The holiday setting is in a forest, with tennis courts and lots of boys and girls his age.   Dony meets the ever so lovely Claire.   He uses what little French he knows to tell her about Ireland.   Dony also tells Claire of his politics, his dislike of the wars of the time.   Claire tells him he is an idealist.   As he leaves a French boy Remy enters the scene.   He hears Claire tell the new boy that Dony is nice, the boy says too nice, this done in French, maybe they think Dony cannot understand it.   There are more awkward teenage moments for Dony.   The story brings together the political turmoil in Europe with the turmoil in the mind of Dony.   On the plane back to Dublin he reads of Russian tanks rolling into Prague and we know these images will be in Dony's mind for a long time.

"Jimmy"  (34 pages-my pages numbers are from my Ipad edition, printed editions will be less)

"Jimmy" is a story about adults, brother and sister, set in Dublin, one grown up in the eyes of the world and one not.   The woman in the story, Windy, is a lecturer in ancient Irish history and is also fat.   Every year she tells students about Celtic crosses and towers in the forest.  She takes her students along on field trips and they are so well thought of that college administrators often go along.   She works in the Gaelic speaking part of Ireland and Irish is a big part of the college curriculum. This is a political and cultural issue as for long periods Irish was looked down on.    We also need to recall what Delcan Kiberd taught us about the mummification of past Irish culture as a tool to keep the culture stuck in the past.   To teach Irish culture can be both part of the creation and destruction of Irish culture unless one is very self aware, as Windy seems not to be.    There is a lot to like and just flat out enjoy in this story.  I loved learning about the Irish scribe, Padraic O Connaire who walked to Moscow to visit Chekhov and "found him gone for the weekend".   There is a statue to him in Galway.   Jimmy is her brother.   He disappeared many years ago, he is rumored to be an alcoholic living in the streets ofLondon.  There is a really a lot in this story, more interesting things than many writers put in long novels.   One day Windy answers her door and a bedraggled looking man in raggedy clothes is at the door.  It is Jimmy come back.   There was a scandal that drove Jimmy out of town. He was accused, falsely he still insists decades later, of sexually molesting a teenage boy.   The boy moved to the United States and ended up being killed in WWII in the Pacific theater.  What brought Jimmy back was a small gambling win which he used to buy his trip home.   Jimmy was a very literate man who saw himself as a poet, a man forced to the streets by injustice (the story line does not exonerate him) who fancies himself a poet.   There is so much in this story I will just say I hope you get to read it one day.   There is heartbreak and release in the stunning conclusion.

Mel u

1 comment:

shaunag said...

Enlightening post, Mel. Some wonderful insights but I have to say, Jimmy is one of my favourite Hogan stories. Others are Blow-ball and Winter Swimmers. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!