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

Friday, August 31, 2012

"The Last Time" and "Eerie Distant Light: the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar by Desmond Hogan

"The Last Time" (1989)
"Eerie distant light:  the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar"  (1989)

The Irish Quarter 
 The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project

Co-hosted by Shauna Gilligan, author of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere

"By invoking scenes of history she endeavors to decipher  our present age 'without a future' and perhaps by so doing, by the chiaroscuro graft upon graft of historical parallel, she gives it a chance of rescue".

As of now I have access to 37 short stories by Desmond Hogan.  Including today's post, I have  posted on 16 of them.   I consider Hogan a very important writer and I think there is great depth and wisdom in his stories, perhaps a wisdom for those not in fully sunlit worlds.   I intend to post all of the remaining stories, some one at a time and some in groups.   I am treating Hogan's stories as found objects, a way of looking at literature from the long ago.   Even though the stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories were not all published originally at the same time I will also on occasion treat the collection as one object, as that is how it is now being presented to the world.

This post as will be most of my remaining  posts on Hogan, is primarily for those familiar with his work.  It is also to clarify my understanding of the stories I am reading.    As far as I know, none of his work can be read online.

"Eerie distant light:  the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar"  is a literary essay from Hogan's collection of occasional pieces,  The Edge of the City.   Reflecting the limits of my own reading, I had never heard of Yourcenar (1903 to 1987) before reading Hogan's essay.    She was a well known Belgian born French writer  and intellectual whose most famous work is Memoirs of Hadrian, a fictional autobiography of a Roman emperor in the form of a letter to Marcus Aurelius. It is a very highly regarded work and I now have it on my TBR list.  (It looks like there is no E books of any of her work in English.)   I first read this essay just because I was curious to know something about a writer that Hogan would publish a long essay on (the timing makes it almost a memorial essay).   The reason I decided to talk about this in the context of a post on Hogan's short stories is I think you can find to an answer to a question that needs to be answered before we can begin to understand Hogan's stories.  

One question I have often asked myself in the reading of Hogan's short stories, I picked "The Last Time" for this post as it perfectly exemplifies what I am talking about, is why are there so many "odd" historical references.   There are constant references to historical facts, not in a pattern but purely shotgun fashion, things not taught in school and perhaps contrary to assumed historical truth.   The narrator of some of the stories  knows lots of facts about history and culture you would not think he would.   Why is this such a frequent motif?  I also think a reflection on this topic will help us to understand the prevalence of Irish Travellers in these stories.    I know there is academic and social debate about the history of the Irish Travellers.   I loved it, as it verified something I said in an earlier posts about secrets given to the Irish Travellers to preserve, when a Traveller told an outsider that they were there when St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and they will still be there when Christianity is forgotten.   It is kind of braggadocio but it rang true to me and it helps me understand more about the stories.   Here is the key passage from the essay on Yourcenar:

history for Marguerite Yourcenar is always contemporary, always in parallel with our own lives, but for her it has a more mystical sense to it.  For her all history lives deep within us so that by those secret areas touched, those areas activated by a brew of will-power and divine intervention, we can journey back randomly, can treat outselves to diorama-views of other ages.

If you read the opening quote of this post and you have read a few Hogan stories with some care I think you will see this in his work.    In her opening post for our project, Shauna Gilligan brilliantly explains that Hogan is dealing with the concept of homelessness, as a metaphor for the cultural ravages of the modern world.   At first when I saw all these travelllers I thought OK for sure to settled people they seem homeless.   Maybe this is just backwards of another truth, a secret from centrifugal history.   In a world where most people have near zero knowledge of their own history, an outsider culture has members who know exact details of events hundreds of years ago, events that do run in parallel to their own lives.  It is those who despise them and hold them in contempt that are culturally homeless, rooted to TV and mindless consumerism with no notion of their own history, they are one generation away from the caves where the travelers have 100s of generations of history riding in their caravans.   I know I have said very little about "The Last Time".    It is a great story and it "verifies" what I say.   I am  not an academic or a scholar and I do not feel a lot of need to prove I am right in these claims.

One of the recurring items  in Hogan is the close mingling  of the scared and the profane.  I talked about this in my post on Hogan's recent story in The Stinging Fly, "The Wooden Horse" where in the same paragraph Homeric heroes are mentioned next to street thugs.   Not to get too deep in this in a blog post, but this is related to why the narrator wants to be a part of the travellers culture and why he wants to have sex with young travellers boys.    Try to think of Leda and the Swan here  retold in a seedy Irish park post midnight.

My great thanks to anyone who has read down this far.

I think Hogan's short stories are world class cultural treasures.  

Mel u

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beautiful Accidents by Ian Rosales Casocot

Beautiful Accidents by Ian Rosales Casocot (2011, a collection of short stories)

"On bad days when she is not Ava Gardner, or Kim Novak, or Lolita Rodriguez, Mother is a weeping shadow, her room locked and curtained off-her darkness as dramatic as the lull before an evening's last full show."

 Ian Rosales Casocot (1975, Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, Philippines) is one of the highest regarded of contemporary short story writers from the Philippines.  He has won numerous awards for his stories.   He was awarded a fellowship to study at the University of Iowa writing program in 2010.  He teaches English and literature at Silliman University in Dumaguete City.   He is for sure the best known writer of Gay fiction in the country.   I really do not like labels like "Gay writer".   I do not really want to ever say someone is a great Gay, Hispanic, or Caucasian writer.   You are either a great or good writer or you are not.   Once you add on a  label it is not clear what the word that follows it means.   Would you buy a stop watch on being told it is considered one of the best of Mexican stopwatches?   This being said, if someone were to ask me to recommend a collection of short stories by an author from the Philippines that might give a feel for what it is like to grow up gay in the Philippines I would at once recommend Beautiful Accidents by Ian Casocot knowing that reader will be very pleased with the exquisite prose. There are twelve wonderful short stories in this collection.   They range from coming of age stories,  stories about mothers and aunts (titas), about cruising the streets to make money from sex to pay for your college tuition, corporate intrigue, and a great longer story about "The Secret Love and Personal History of Tigulang, Liberator of Oriental Negros" which aside from being a brilliant work of art is also a hard to come by history lesson.    The book also includes an interesting introduction by one of Casocot's creative writing professors, Timothy R. Montes.

In posting on short story collections I like to look at particular stories rather than simply generalize about the collection.   If I were pondering buying or reading a short story collection this is what I would prefer to read and I also think it shows more respect for the writer.     As I normally do, I will post a bit on some of the stories and then will try to say what I like about the collection and why I think it is worth reading.  I will also include the official author biography of Ian Casocot and links to where you can learn more about his work as well as details about the publisher of the E book edition, Flipside Digiital Content.

"Old Movies"

"Old Movies" is the lead story in the collection and it a brilliant account of the family life of the narrator, a young gay man.   Some superficial readers or the homophobic will probably look on this story as an account of what caused the narrator to become gay.   I loved his description of his mother:  "On good days, Mother comes out of her room in an Ava Gardner stupor.   She is a sinewy siren with mischief in her hair.   She has a class of Scotch in her hand". This is from when the narrator was ten.  The mother and her son are very into old American movies.   The mother's sister lives there also.  The mother says the boy is a bastard.   The aunt hisses at her that she is drunk.   The narrator is now a young man, people call him Jaguar because he can pass for a young Philip Salvador (an award winning Filipino actor known for his good looks).     His father was a security guard at a pawn shop and claimed he was once a cab driver in Cebu.   The day after his mother's water broke, his father left town on his motorcycle.    His mother kept the fact that she was pregnant a secret with baggy fitting clothes until the day he was born. Her family gets in a car wreck on the way to the hospital in one really hilarious and sad very cinematic episode.    One of the really fun things about this story is the household chaos with people coming and going at all times.  As times goes buy the mother and the aunt will give him various accounts of how he got his name.   In the only picture he has seen of his father he looks like James Dean "with peacock masculinity astride his motorcycle".    When we first see the narrator in a romantic setting with another man his lover tells him that "You are so Rock Hudson".   The time is now the 1990s.    His friend tells him he does not have to hide his sexual status anymore.   The story flashes back in forth in time and cover a long period.   We see his once beautiful mother dying of cancer, but we see it through images from American movies.   Under the surface, "Old Movies" is a very devastating story about the consequences of cultural colonialism and the corrosive consequences this has had for the culture of the Philippines (and elsewhere).   It is also a beautifully written story and anybody  who grew up in or  has a "crazy" family will love it,


"Cruising" is an exciting story about the life of a young gay man working his way through college as a call boy and a street pickup.  He has what is called, in his line of work, an "angle".   He is the high IQ very literate call boy.    He says he is kind of the like the straight man's fantasy figure of the "hot librarian".    He has a woman he is close to, she seems to be a prostitute also but you have to read between the lines a bit here, which is a good touch.   He tells her if he had a better body he would do porn.  She tells him he might be able to work as a dancer in a gay bar.   He is enrolled in college seeking a philosophy degree.   He joins a gym to improve his body.   We see him with his customers in cheap hotels.   The narrator of the story likes, maybe to mask what he does, to think about his work in terms set out by Jung and Derrida.   He charges his customers 1000 peso for two hours.   He tells himself  he is is making an experiment in capitalism and testing the theories about supply and demand of Marx in his work.  He had a scholarship but he lost it, he says, because he would not provide one of his professors with oral sex.   We learn a good bit about the sexual desires of the men he meets.   In bed he feels like he is the master of the men that pay him.   In one case the only way he can get his client to climax is to talk to him about Oscar Wilde.  We also spend some late night time in a disco.  I am leaving out much of the plot.   This story is a very real seeming account of the mental state of a gay cruiser, he loves and hates what he is doing, objectifies his clients and tries to intellectualize himself into almost a temple prostitute.   All in all a story that sees through dozens of layers of rationalization.

"Yeah, Baby, Take It All In, Bitch"

Anybody who has ever worked in an office where there are rumors of downsizing will totally relate to this story.  The atmosphere in the office has been getting worse and worse for days now, the signs of a big coming layoff are there for anyone to read.   Then, the work place is an online newspaper,  one in the Metro Manila area, and Sherry has called a big meeting.   Everybody hates her and they all say on what now!    They find out on December 14, four days from the meeting, sixty percent of the workers will be let go.   Nice Christmas gift.   They claim that retention will be based  only on merit but come one who believes that.   The workers talk on and on about how much they hate Sherry.  Of course the company tells them they expect everyone to do their best work as if nothing was going to happen.  The workers wonder how they will tell their spouses and family.   One of the writers says he does not want to have to leave Manila and go back to his families home in Dumaguete.    We learn a lot about the lives of the employees and we do like it when rumors start to circulate that Sherry is going to be among those let go.   When the time comes the management has a very 21th century way of letting you know if you still have a job or not.   If your user name and password still work, then you are not fired.    As the story plays out we see how people cope.   There is a lot in this pretty long story, more than I can relay but it is a story anybody from any country can relate to though one of the great things about it for me is that it is a very rooted in the Philippines story.   There is always something neat about stories with references to places you have been to.

"The Secret Love and Personal History of Tigulang, Liberator of Oriental Negros"

This is a great story and provides a history lesson you will find nowhere else.   One of the things that makes it so challenging to understand the culture and history of the Philippines is the great diversity of languages and backgrounds.   Up until after World War II people from the Philippines did not think of themselves so much as Filipinos but as citizens of their regions.  This is particularly true of people who live on the smaller Islands.   There are no bridges between the islands so people see their island as their home.    Often the island has its own language and is controlled by hereditary strongmen.   You are not going to learn this history in text books or classrooms, the only resource is from the people who live there (and by and large as is normal the younger people are not interested) or in stories in literature.   This story is about Don de La Vina la Rosa who brought peace with native peoples who had been hostile to development of the area and who brought in large numbers of settlers.  (One of the controversies in studies of the history of the Philippines involves indigenous roots versus Chinese, Malay, or Spanish.   I personally think the indigenous roots (meaning back to 1200 or so before the Chinese and Malay came) of the DNA of the Philippines is way underestimated but this is a huge question.)   In just a few years he transformed a jungle island into a hacienda based agricultural area and became hugely rich in the process.  He was not just rich, he was like a king.   This totally wonderful long short story is about his mistress.  It is narrated through the voice of a young man she is close to.   La Rosa is a pretty old man when the story begins and the woman quite young, normal enough for the time and place.   She likes the young man because he is indifferent to the shame inherent in being  a mistress, even his daughters are older than her.   This is just a really delightful story I totally enjoyed reading.

Each of the eight remaining short stories is very well done.   The level of the prose is very high.    The stories are rooted in place, mostly in Manila or Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.   The metro Manila area has over 20 Million people and Dumaguete 120,000 so the stories are also about the contrast of small town life to life in a huge mega-city.   You can tell Casacot loves his home area, maybe he probably finds Manila exciting but it is not home and that shows in these wonderful stories.   The prose is beautiful.   Most of the stories do deal with gay relationships, dealt with in a very knowing and sensitive fashion.  

Casacot has a very interesting blog The Spy in the Sandwich where you can learn more about his work and his thoughts.

The E-book of Beautiful Accidents was published by Flipside Publishing which is the premier source for books about the Philippines or by new and established writers from the Philippines.   They offer a wide variety of books from serious academic history as well as popular history, collections of short stories, literary and popular fiction, humor, children's books, technical manuals and GLBT books.    The prices are very fair and their webpage is very well done.

Beautiful Accidents by Ian Rosales Casocot deserves a place among the best writers of short stories in the world today.   For many people it will teach them things they never learned in school about life in the Philippines and will let those into GLBT literature see what it was like to grow up Gay in the Philippines, I think those from many first world countries could learn a lesson in brotherhood from these stories.   There is r-rated material in some of the stories.

Mel u

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966, 138 pages)

Thomas Pynchon, in my opinion, is the greatest of all American novelists.   Gravity's Rainbow gets my vote as the greatest American novel.   I would love for Pynchon to win the Nobel Prize so we could see who he would send in his place to make the acceptance speech.   I first read The Crying of Lot 49 just before Gravity's Rainbow was published in 1973.  I was completely mesmerized by Gravity's Rainbow and I read it back to back several times in a row.   It is the book I have read the most times.  I have a first edition of it that would have some value were it not totally ready to fall apart.   I know this is a commentary on my state of mind in 1973 as much as anything else but I have read GR times over the decades since then several times and my opinion of it goes up as time goes on.    I would for sure put it among the top ten novels of all time.

"If you need to reach me, use
W A S T E"-Carmilla
I think I have probably read The Crying of Lot 49 maybe four times, the last time about four years ago.   I read it again last week and I loved it more than before.  I will not retell the plot (if you are just looking for homework help to avoid reading the book, check Wikipedia) but just say a bit why I like it so much as best as I can.

I like it for its description of American culture in the 1960s.   I like the character of Oedipa Mass and how she discovers a whole alternative America.   I love the account of alternative postal systems and their histories.  I enjoyed the Elizabethan tragedy about postal systems.    I like how Oedipa comes to find huge groups of "outsiders" communicating with each other via the  W A S T E system.   I stand ready to wait for silent Tristero's empire to rise again.

Parts of The Crying of Lot 49 have helped me to understand better the work of Desmond Hogan, an author I greatly admire and have been reading a lot lately.

I would recommend The Crying of Lot 49 as a first Pynchon.   The story is pretty linear.   The prose is not that dense.   If you like this book I would say dive into Gravity's Rainbow, it is not as hard as people say.   It is in part, x rated is my only warning on it.

I will, I think, shortly reread V, Pynchon's first novel.

Please share your experience with Pynchon with us.

Mel u.    

"Real Durwan" by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Real Durwan" by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999, 13 pages)

Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent
A Reading Life Project
The Short Stories of Jhumpa Lahiri

After a bit of pondering I have decided to include my posts on the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri as part of my project on Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent.   She was born in England to parents from India and is a citizen of the USA.   Her stories are mostly about Indian immigrants to America.   I am currently reading her first collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies and posting on the short stories in the work.    (There is some background information on her in my prior posts on her stories.)  Upon  completion of the nine stories in this collection, I will then read the stories in her second collection, The Unaccustomed Earth.   

"Real Durwan", from The Interpreter of Maladies, is the first story by Jhumpa Lahiri that I have read that does not deal with Indian immigrants.  I will just post briefly on it.   The central character is an old woman who works as a durwan in an apartment building in in India.   A durwan seeps the stairs in the building and keeps the common area clean and does whatever else the residents want of her.   She also serves as a kind of watch person.   The building is not in a fancy part of the city, the residents are all struggling to make a living.    The durwan is allowed to sleep where ever she can in the building, either on the stairs  or sometimes out on the yard or on the roof.   People give her food scraps to eat.    The durwan tells everyone about how she used to be very rich and live in total luxury.   People do not really believe her but no one cares enough about her to challenge her claim.   Something tragic happens in the story.

This is another very good story that takes us into the lives of ordinary people.

Mel u

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Jew's Wife and Other Stories by Thomas J. Hubschman

The Jew's Wife and Other Stories by Thomas J. Hubschman (2008, 168 pages)

In posting on short story collections I like to look at particular stories rather than simply generalize about the collection.   If I were pondering buying or reading a short story collection this is what I would prefer to read and I also think it shows more respect for the writer.   I will post a bit on about half of the stories and then will try to say what I like about the collection and why I think it is worth reading.  Also there has been several articles on the net recently about book reviews, whether or not the reviewers actually read the books.   It is my view that by posting as I do, for better or worse, it is at least clear I have read the work.    I will also include the official author biography of Thomas J. Hubschman at the end of the post.

"Rough Justice", the lead story in the collection, is a very interesting brilliantly done story about the friendship of two middle class couples from New York City.   They live next door to each other and see themselves as quite close.   They do things together and have a comfortable routine.   The story is narrated by one of the men in the story.   They baby sit for each other's kids.   The men help each other with around the house projects and they even coordinate the landscaping on their houses.   The couples, according to the narrator, see each other as almost like family.   Then something happens that shatters their friendship and makes them look at everything in a new light.   I will tell you only what happened and leave the rest of the story untold so you can have the  pleasure of discovering it.   One of the men likes to take long walks in the morning.   On one of these walks he ends up getting arrested for sexually molesting a woman.  Of course at first his friends say it must just be a misunderstand and the accuser must just be a crazy woman.  Things take a bad turn when they find out the woman is a high powered business executive.  The author does a great job of letting us see how this will change things between the couples.  I really liked this story a lot and I thought the characters were very well developed. Hubschman leaves out a lot in this story and I am glad he did.

"The Jew's Wife", set in the United States shortly after World War II, is the title story of the collection.   It is about refuges , called displaced persons or "DPs", from Eastern Europe or Russia.   It is a very well done story about prejudice, the reversals of fortune and about the baggage of our histories.   The story is told in the first person by a man, we do not get his exact age but I am saying mid-fifties at least, who used to have a good life before the war.   We quickly learn of his hatred and contempt for Jews.   The worst thing about his new life in America is that he now has to work for one.   He is a married man, there is a lot of interesting thought provoking material on marriages in Hubschman's stories, married a long time and dedicated to his wife.    Maybe he does  does not want to know the terrible pain the Jew and his wife went through before coming to America. Worse maybe he supported what happened to Jews in Eastern Europe.  The ending of the story is really powerful.   I have never read before of such a sequence of events and such a hidden horror brought forward but still shielded from view.

"The Naked Woman" (I acknowledge the title got my attention) is another story about a long married couple.   The couples in Hubschman's stories are very bonded, deeply so but they are not cute, loving partners, far from it but I think that we can believe so strongly in their marriages shows the brilliance of the author.   There are only three real center stage characters in this story.   It is narrated by an unemployed 55 year old man.   Besides him we have his very long term wife and the woman he saw naked in front of her door in their apartment building one day.   (It was a New York style apartment with interior corridors.)   When he sees her in front of the door, she went out real quick to get her newspaper and did not bother to put any clothes on he thinks to himself it has been thirty years at least since he has seen a naked woman in the flash besides his wife, and to boot a very sexy looking one.    His wife has a job, they owned a concession stand in a theater selling snacks and such for many years and they liked to tell people they had been in the theater.   The theater closed down and now his wife supports him.   She heaps abuse on top of abuse on him, calling him all day long to be sure he has done the tasks he is supposed to around the house.   The he sees the other woman again and she asks him if he will come inside her place to look at a leaking faucet.   Now he begins to think about her and worse yet he is not home when his wife calls.    There is a lot more in this story and the ending really took me by surprise but I liked it a lot and it helped me understand a lot about the relationship of the couple.    The characters of the husband and wife and their fights are just perfect.  

"Fidelity"    is another story with a marriage at its center.   In this case it is the eight year old marriage of two attorneys.   The story is set in the New York City area.     The story is told by the woman.   She has just discovered that her husband, for the first time ever, has committed adultery with another woman, and just to put a dagger in it, a woman with quite large breasts.   She tells herself that she has never wanted to be with another man and when she tells her husband this he tells her, nothing like a matrimonial fight between two attorneys, that since she never wanted to cheat then she  not get any credit for not doing what she did not want to do in the first place.   He tells her that this is he first and will be the last time he ever cheats and she asks him if he wants a medal.   The fight is perfect.    In a very intriguing scene the woman does her workout routine, normally she does this close to naked but now she does not want to work out in front of her husband.   She begins to rethink their whole relationship.   He tries to court her back.  This is a great story about the permanent changes one incident can bring in a marriage.   I will leave the rest of the action unspoiled but the characters and conversations are spot on.

"I Am So Loving the Cello" takes place in  New York City, in the Bronx area. The plot action takes place in a  six story building, most all of the occupants are professionals and one of them is a famous cello player, Arthur Aranoff.   It is told by the daughter of one of the families of the building.    Her father is a furrier.   His wife is much more cultured than he is and he is proud of that fact.   She always tells him that he is an artist just like Mr. Aranoff only his medium is fur.   He knows his wife is really trying to make him feel good about himself and tells her no I just cut up animal skins for  rich women.   There is a lot of controversy in the building because the cello player practices all day long.   On a day during dinner the wife of the furrier tells him the cello player will soon be playing in a radio concert with a lot of prestige and he ends up losing his appetite for her baked chicken which he normally loves.   The man hates Aranoff and decides on a way to "settle his hash".   I will not say what happens but it is just so funny and it creates a huge secret bond between the daughter and father than lasts forever.   It is also, like the other stories, a very good portrayal of conversations between a married couple.

"Company" is another story about a long term relationship, in this case between two men.   Jack and the narrator are kind of  the grasshopper and the ant from the old fable.   Jack is a practical sensible one woman man who has his life in very good order.   They were roommates in college and have been friends for nearly two decades.   The narrator and his wife have been wining and dining him and his various wives for a long time.   Jack is an artist whose work does not sell.   His first wife, who the narrator and his wife really liked, supported Jack so he could paint.    A homeless man enters there life and brings an unexpected realization of somethings that they might have preferred to have left unknown.   Like the others, this is a very well written story.

"The Virgin" takes us out of New York City to Ireland, though the lead male character is a New York living in Ireland.  He has been there long enough so he thinks he can tell a Cork accent from a Dublin one.   It  also is a different story in that it does not focus on a long term couple.   As the story opens the man, the story is told in the third person, is listening to Margo Donnelly talking to the host of a radio call in talk show.   He was surprised to hear a woman he had been working with for three years on the radio.   They worked in different departments and did not really see each other that much but today they run into each other twice.  As I read this I had a funny feeling maybe Margo was not a woman and I wondered if the man in question knew that.   The story of how they become a couple is really interesting and totally a lot of fun to read.

The Jew's Wife and Other Stories is Thomas J. Hubschman's first collection of short stories.   There are 14 stories in the collection.   Besides the ones I featured there is a story about a wild Halloween party, a neighbor who gets arrested for child molesting and a riveting story about a religious event as well as a great story about Catholic nuns.   Most of the stories are set in New York city, the characters are well rooted in this environment.

I really liked this collection and am so glad I read it.   I think his conversations between long term married couples are perfect, the good scenes where you can feel the happiness in relationship and the nasty fights that  sometimes happen were perfectly realized..   The people in the stories were very believable.

Hubschman is a great short story writer, a master at the craft.   I recommend this book to any and all.  He writes, to my mind in the tradition of Ivan Turgenev and Anton Chekhov.

Official Author Biography

 Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, Billy Boy, My
 Bess and The Jew's Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction
 novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish
 Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications.
 Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service. He
 has also edited two
 anthologies of new writing from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

You can learn more about his work on his two blogs and his webpage.

You can learn more about him and his work on his webpage and his two blogs, one devoted to his music.

Mel u

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Two Short Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri

"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" (1999, 20 pages)

"Interpreter of Maladies"  (1999, 27 pages)

Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent
A Reading Life Project
The Short Stories of Jhumpa Lahiri

After a bit of pondering I have decided to include my posts on the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri as part of my project on Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent.   She was born in England to parents from India and is a citizen of the USA.   Her stories are mostly about Indian immigrants to America.   I am currently reading her first collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies and posting on the short stories in the work.    (There is some background information on her in my prior posts on her stories.)  Upon  completion of the nine stories in this collection, I will then read the stories in her second collection, The Unaccustomed Earth.   

"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dinner" is set in 1971.   It is told by the daughter of a professor, living and teaching in the United States and is about their relationship with Mr. Pirzada, a frequent dinner guest.   Mr.  Pirzada is from Dacca, then part of Pakistan and is a  Mulslim. The host family are from Indian and are Hindus.    In Dakka Mr. Pirzada had a wife of twenty years, a lectureship in botany and six daughters.   He was in the USA on a grant to write a book about the changing of the leaves in New England.  The grant was modest and he lived in a dorm room.   Back home in Dakka teachers were being dragged into the streets and shot, girls were being taken into barracks and raped in religious riots.   He has not heard from his family for months.   The Indian family was in the habit of having him over for dinner.    When war started between Indian and Pakistan they kept up the custom but the old openness was a little lost.  I will not tell more of the plot of this great story.   It a wonderful account of a man coping with terrible stress and off how a war far away, a war that makes little real sense changes so many lives.  It is also about religious conflicts as Mr. Pirizada is a Muslim and his hosts are Hindus.

"The Interpreter of Maladies", the title story in the collection, is about a married couple, Mr and Mrs Das from India, now living in the USA in New Jersey, who have come back to India on vacation, along with their kids.   Mr. Kapasai  is their guide.   He cannot help but notice the shaved, largely bares legs of Mrs. Das, who has adopted a purely American style.   They are on their way to see the Sun Temple at Konarak.  The guide notices how young the couple is, under thirty, they have a daughter and two sons.   They looked Indian but dressed like foreigners.   Mr. Kapasai often guides tourists for an agency as he has an excellent command of English.   We see the family trying to get used to India.  One of the boys sees a goat by the side of the road and wants to give it a piece of gum.   The guide, in his fifties, is fascinated by Mrs. Das, she is so much bolder than most Indian women.   It is not just that but she takes a personal interest in him, asking him about his life.   She finds out he has another job also.  He works as an interpreter for a doctor.  Many of the doctor's patients speak a language the doctor does not and the guide's job is to translate for the patients and the doctor.   On the way to the temple the couple and their children are amazed when they see some monkeys and horrified when their son is attacked by one of the monkeys.    Mrs Das tells the guide something shocking.     As the trip process she asks for his address and tells him she will send him pictures of the trip.   He begins to imagine they will develop a close bond via letters.   I will not tell the ending of this story but it is really a profound commentary on colonialism, among other things.

Do you have a favorite story by Jhumpa Lahiri?   

Mel u

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Blogger Hop August 24 to August 30

"Welcome to The Reading Life"
Book Blogger Hop
August 24-30

I am very glad to see that Crazy for Books by Jennifer has restarted The Book Blogger Hop.   I always found it a great way to discover new to me blogs and I gained some great mutual followers through it.

"Welcome to all book blog hoppers"-
I post on a wide variety of books.   Among my interests are Asian fiction, short stories, classics, modern novels, and literary fiction.   I like to discover new to me authors.   

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for participants.

This weeks question is What is your favorite thing about blogging?

My Answer

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember.   I was always made to feel I was somehow odd in this passion and I felt alone in my love for reading.    Thanks to the huge international book blog world I know longer feel alone.  Through it I have connected not just to legions of other avid readers but authors as well so it has gotten me closer to the creative process.   

I will follow back any one who follows me.  Just leave a comment so I will know you are now following me.  I will also return the visits of those who leave comments.

I am on Twitter as @thereadinglife

Mel u

Murder in Mumbai by K. D. Calamur

Murder in Mumbai by K. D.Calamur (2012)

Murder in Mumbai  is the debut novel of K. D. Calamur.    It a welcome edition to the growing body of Indian literature that deals with the contrast of old and new India, rich and poor, west and tradition.   It centers on a murder investigation.   In a city of 14 million or so not all people are equal and not all murders are either.   The murder of an American business woman, a high level executive at a Mumbai company is a very high priority case as it might cause westerns to shy away from locating businesses in Mumbai.

There are two main characters, one a police detective and one a journalist working the crime beat for a major newspaper.   The real central character in this novel is the city of Mumbai, once called Bombay and still called that by many who live there.   Mumbai is India's most populous city with over 20 million residents (it is the most common city of residence in the world for a visitor to my blog).   The central population of Manila, where The Reading Life is based, is estimated at 11.5 million and the greater metropolitan area is estimated at 25 million so I can relate well to novels set in Asian mega-cities.    It is the center of the westernization of India with many western companies locating offices there to take advantage of the huge pool of highly educated low cost workers.   There is old wealth and new wealth but most of the citizens are in huge slums or near poverty.   I really liked it when one of the characters says the city is divided into people who think of themselves as from Mumbai and others who take pride in being from Bombay.    I admit I laughed out loud when the journalist in the story said sometimes he thinks of Mumbai as a village of 20 million where the only way to get anything at all done is by knowing someone as for sure I knew exactly what he meant.  In the city of this novel, everything from getting a job to getting married down to where you get your bottled water from depends on who you know.

In Murder in Mumbai, through the process of  the murder investigation and a related theft case,  we get to meet top Indian business executives, see how a police investigation works (as a matter of course suspects are beaten), we get a look at how a newspaper works and  a feel for Mumbai.   Mumbai has been to a large extent by the huge western presence,  freed of the old boundaries of caste, religion and sex but in the process the citizens have been cut loose from their cultural anchors, given only greed and consumerism to replace them.

The process of the murder investigation was very interesting and kept my attention.  I thought the policeman (an honest one which we are given to believe is an extreme Mumbai rarity) and the journalist were well developed characters.   We get to see the city through both of their eyes.

I really enjoyed read this book.  It kept my attention and I did not guess who the killer was before it was revealed but it made perfect sense.

I endorse this book to anyone who likes a good crime novel and I hope to read more works by K.D. Calamur.

Official Author Bio

K.D. Calamur is an editor at NPR in Washington, D.C. He was brought up in Mumbai, where he began his journalistic career. His debut novella, Murder In Mumbai, is being published by the Penguin Group’s Dutton Guilt-Edged Mysteries. Calamur lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife and their dog.

Mel u

Friday, August 24, 2012

Desmond Hogan-Two Short Stories

"Wedding at Gallog"  (2004)
"Rose of Lebanon"  (2003)

The Irish Quarter 
 A Celebration of the Irish Short Story

The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project

Co-hosted by Shauna Gilligan, author of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere

"The women, many with Venetian red hair that would warrant a fire brigade.."

As of now I have access to 37 short stories by Desmond Hogan.  Including today's post, I have  posted on 15 of them.   I consider Hogan a very important writer and I think there is great depth and wisdom in his stories, perhaps a wisdom for those not in fully sunlit worlds.   I intend to post all of the remaining stories, some one at a time and some in groups.   I am treating Hogan's stories as found objects, a way of looking at literature from the long ago.   Even though the stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories were not all published originally at the same time I will also on occasion treat the collection as one object, as that is how it is now being presented to the world.

Today I am posting on two of   Hogan's short stories.   I am coming, I think, to partially understand how a Hogan short story works.   

"Wedding at Gallog"  is a very good story and one that seems representative of the style of Hogan.   He begins the story with a quick reference to a boy from Eton college, we learn about his cherry red cheeks and his blond curls, who worked as a farm hand and swam horses.   He tells a story of Susanna from the bible wrongly accused by two elders of having sex with a young man, while bathing.      He tells how Daniel proved the elders were lying.   A Hogan story often includes a tell from ancient texts just as this one does in the opening lines.   There are references to lots of out of Ireland places as is also typical.   There are long wonderful descriptions of the clothing of the characters.   I love this line-"Some of the boys were small blond porcupines".   There are gypsies and travellers in the story along with references to kings and queens of England.   We also are told of a company of traveller soldiers.   Hogan's stories all have wonderful short segments to delight us and make us think.   There are also references to gay sex, often with young men as the objects of desire, of getting boys drunk so you can have sex with them.   There is animal lore about foxes and badgers.   There are stories about Traveller soldiers and the things they brought back from India.   There is a reference to a famous Cardinal who collected rare books and had a male lover.   I really enjoyed reading this story.  

"Rose of Lebanon" is another story that deals with Travellers and a central character who  lives in a caravan but is not really a Traveller.   The story begins just like "Wedding at Gallog" with a description of a boy.   The narrator mentions that the boy looks at a reproduction he has of a painting Male Nude by Pietro Pedroni.  Like many of the other there is a mixture of the banal and arcane cultural references.   The narrator seems to make a reference to time his father spent in a mental hospital.  His father gave him a number of art books, probably where the narrator first came to see the male body in a sexualized art object. We learn more about Irish military units that fought in Palestine in 1948.   There is an odd construction that appears over and over in this story that I have not see elsewhere in Hogan.  It is in the use of the word "used" such as in "the Irish soldiers used swim off the rocks at Raouche".   This occurs several times.  I admit I am confused by this use of "used" but perhaps it is Irish idiom.   There are many art references in this story. One of the questions to ponder in the stories of Hogan is why does the obviously very well educated and highly cultured narrator live among Travellers.   Without being negative on a group, a quick bit of research will reveal the very low overall education levels of Travellers.   The people in the stories are not at all in awe of the narrator and seem to look down on him at times.   There are also a number of references to Romany people in the story.  There is a lot of obscure historical lore in this story.  I do not know it for sure but I suspect they are not things taught in Irish universities.   Like the other stories of Hogan, all of which I loved, one could spend many hours doing a line by line deconstruction of the story.   

Mel u

Thursday, August 23, 2012

He Is Worthy by Lisa Henry.

He Is Worthy by Lisa Henry (2012, 90 pages)

Set in Rome in  68 AD during the reign of Nero, focuses on two men, two as unequal as can be men who come to love each other.    One of the men is a close friend of Nero (a very perilous position), the other a recently captured slave  from the Teutenberg region of Germany who had the extreme bad luck to be the kind of young man that Nero and others in his court enjoy using sexually, often sacrificing them to their gods when they tire of them.

Nero's friend Senna, if that is the right word for their relationship, has a special job, whenever the Emperor has turned against a high ranking Roman it is his place to tell them it is time to kill themselves.   Aenor is a new slave who has been brutalized and humiliated for the amusement of Nero and his sycophants.   Senna decides to use the slave, who can get close to Nero during sex, to assassinate him.    It is a suicide mission for both but neither cares.   Senna, once a man of character, hates Nero so much and feels a great sense of shame and the slave would rather die than live on as a sex toy so both agree to give their lives in this plot on the life of Nero.   Neither can quite trust the other.

He Is Worthy does a good job of letting us imagine how horrible it was to be a male pleasure slave in Rome, not a job with a lot of long term prospects.  Contrary to the movies, it did not involve servicing the needs of beautiful female aristocrats.   The sexual abuse of the slave is very graphically described.   If this were a movie it would be X-rated.   We also see how feared the Roman soldiers were by the ordinary citizens and how dangerous Rome was after dark.

The two men fall in love, or what passes for it in the world they live in.   The ending is one we might have hoped for.

I would classify this as a good  read.   It is not that long and it will keep your attention.   It is not for those who do not like X-rated descriptions of gay sex, including rape.   If you enjoyed, as I did, the HBO series, Rome, I think you will enjoy this book.

Lisa Henry is a very good prose stylist.
"I quite enjoyed this book!"

In the interests of full disclosure, I received a free copy of this book.

You can learn more about Lisa Henry and her work on her blog

Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly. 
She shares her house a log-suffering partner, too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.

Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly. 
She shares her house a log-suffering partner, too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.

Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly. 
She shares her house a log-suffering partner, too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
You can find Lisa’s blog at w

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (2012, 307 pages)

Jeet Thayil's (Kerala, India, 1959) debut novel, Narcopolis, is the only work by an author from India long listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.   There has lately been a number of works published that seek to show us the "real world" of the Indian mega-cities, the world beyond the international headquarters and the Rolex dealerships.   Narcopolis succeeds wonderfully in this task.  He shows the city of Bombay ( I confess I  prefer to call it this rather than Mumbai and I think most if the residents of the city feel the same way)  transitioning from the mid-1970s when internatiolnal companies first began to make use of the vast pool of cheap college educated labor in India to do its backroom and call center work.   What makes Narcopolis so powerful is  how Thayil tells the story of Bombay through the lives of its most despised citizens, transsexual prostitutes, their clients and drug addicts.  

As the story opens, the male narrator has just arrived from New York City.   He finds himself  fascinated by the dark side of the big city, in his case with an opium den and a brothel associated with it.   This is not a brothel that services the needs of rich Indians and foreign business executives who want to have an Indian woman.  It is one of the very cheapest sex establishments in Bombay.   Most of the clients are poor but some can afford better but just like the sensation of filth and decadence.    He develops a relationship with a brothel worker named Dimple, who was born as a boy but was castrated at a young age and sold to the brothel operators. She lives and dresses as a woman.  I really liked her character and I was very moved when she taught herself to read.   As the novel progresses, Dimple becomes more and more educated but never really imagines another life for herself.   There is a lot to say about the reading life in this novel and I loved that part of it especially.  It rang very true to me, how the pleasure of reading, if you can really call it that, can endure when the others are lost and how it can magnify your pain as well.

The changes in Bombay are mirrored in the drugs that are most popular in the streets and dens of the city.   At the start it is opium but as the story ends it is  a version of heroin that is dominant.   We get to know a number of people through their visits to the brothel.   The men in the brothel feel they can open themselves up in the conversations with Dimple and others who work  there (after all who cares what a transsexual prostitute think of you).   One of the most interesting characters is a Chinese business man who mourns the decay of Chinese culture under the great leap forward.   One of the short segments, there are many fascinating interludes, I liked most concerned an artist who painted pictures of Jesus as if he were a figure from Indian two thousand years ago.  The descriptions are beautiful and go deeply into the issues of merging the values of old India with western culture.  It also eroticses Jesus and forces you to see him as a transfiguration of masculinity.   There are deep issues here and Thayil takes us quite far into them.    

Using opium is depicted as a slow languorous very mellow social process done in a ritualistic fashion in traditions that go back to the long ago.   It is a social activity.   From this as time process and Bombay decays, the drug of choice becomes synthetic chemicals which only destroy their users.   The narrator loves drugs, he loves the brothel and the chaos of Bombay but he sees the death in it.

This is not a book for the squeamish or for those who want to be driven around the best parts of Bombay in a limo with very dark windows so you can pretend you feel bad for the poor, but really you tell yourself it is actually their fault for being so shiftless and practicing a religion you have no ability to understand.   This story began when the British tried to rule India and is very much about the effects of colonizing on the psyche of India.

Narcopolis shows us the fools games behind the international headquarters, the malls and the mansions.

The prose is beautiful.   I really liked the close of the novel.

I totally endorse this book with the qualification it is not for those who shy away from graphic sex and improper language.

This is a challenging book but one that will way over payback your efforts.

I was provided a free copy this book.

Author Bio

Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil was born in Kerala, India, and educated in Hong Kong, New York and Bombay. His poetry collections includeEnglish and Apocalypso. He is the editor of Give the Sea Change and It Shall Change: Fifty-Six Indian Poets(Fulcrum) and Divided Time: India and the End of Diaspora(Routledge). His new book of poems These Errors are Correct is forthcoming from East West. He lives in Bangalore.

Mel u

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"A Large Girl" by Mridula Koshy

"A Large Girl" by Mridula Koshy (2009, 15 pages)

Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent
A Reading Life Project

Mridula Koshy

I am very pleased  that The Reading Life was recently recommended by The Economic Times of India,the leading financial daily of The Subcontinent.   

The Reading Life Guide to The Indian Short Story

There is no literary culture with roots older than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke for telling the English that they had no right to govern a region whose culture is much older than theirs.  Many of the geographic boundaries that created these countries were created by the British or are consequences of their misrule.       Some of the writers featured  will be internationally famous, such as Salmon Rushdie, Saadat Manto,  and R. K. Narayan but most of the writers I post on will be authors on whom there are no prior book blog posts.    There are numerous books and academic conferences devoted to exploring the colonial experiences of India and Ireland and I will look at these stories partially as post colonial literature.   My main purpose here is just to open myself up to a lot more new to me writers and in this case most will be new to anyone outside of serious literary circles in the region. I am hoping in a small way to create networks of readers worldwide.    Where I can I will provide links to the stories I post on but this will not always be possible.

Mridula Koshy is a well known internationally published writer from Bombay, India.

Official Biography from her blog

Mridula Koshy is the author of Not Only the Things That Have Happened (forthcoming from Harper Collins India). Her short story collection, If It Is Sweet(Tranquebar Press, 2009; Brass Monkey, 2011) won the 2009 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2009 Vodafone Crossword Book Award.

Koshy lives sometimes in New Delhi and sometimes in Portland, Oregon, and all the time with her poet-schoolteacher partner and three exceptionally wonderful children.  

She was many other things before she became a writer: a cashier at a Kentucky Fried Chicken,swap-meet sales clerk, backstage dresser at fashion shows,waitress who set a table cloth on fire, polisher of silverware in the back room for many months afterward, writing adviser, a professional advocate of multiculturalism (it was the late 80s), a painter (not of the fine arts variety), receptionist at a law firm (fired for losing phone calls), collator of tax forms, union organizer, community organizer, reading fairy at the library.

"Large Girl" is a very interesting story about the long term relationship of two women.  Janet was once the "large girl" made fun off in school for her size and the narrator of the story, once her schoolmate.   It is told through the reconstruction of the memories of the narrator who looks back to when she first knew the other girl, many years ago, to now when they have an intimate relationship.     The large girl was the first one to develop breasts. They attended a schooel run by nuns but it does not seem they are necessarily Catholics.    One day the large girl did a jump on Sports Day and her skirt rose up exposing her underwear.   Everybody laughed but the narrator.  "But there were somethings I knew even then, maybe about the world, maybe about me.   In any case the last thing I wanted to do was laugh".   I already totally liked the narrator.   Now something unexpected happen, the narrator says she wanted to "slip my hands down those trunk-like legs".  They get older together in the school.  The large girl brings in a book about Marilyn Monroe with lots of glossy provocative pictures. The girls get a bit excited over this.  

At a dance toward the end of school she dances with Janet and she says it was the first time she found herself  in her embrace.  Janet has a tragic history. (I do not want to tell too much of the story as you can read this online and I urge you to do so.).   The nuns and Janet say she is an orphan but what really happened is that her father murdered her mother.   

As the story progresses fourteen years into the future, we do not learn how the two women developed anintimate relationship and how sexual it was, but Janet's favorite reading position is lying full length on the top of the narrator.  The narrator is now married and has children.  There are class differences between the two women, Janet was poor and the narrator from a rich family.   Their relationship goes into phases.   Janet questions her endlessly about her relationship with her husband, including their sex life.   Maybe Janet has not had experiences with men as she fears her size will turn them off or maybe the way her father treated her mother turned her from them, one can understand that all too well.  

There is a lot more in this story.  It is a wonderful account of the development of a friendship and an intimate relationship between two women.   I really liked the fact that Koshy did not precisely define the full terms of the relationship of the two women.    

You can read ""The Large Girl" and a number of Mridula Koshy's other stories and essays on her blog

"The Large Girl" is a very good short story, beautifully written with great emotional intelligence and I will read more of her work.

Mel u

Monday, August 20, 2012

Interview with Shauna Gilligan-Author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere

Not long ago I had the great privilege of being one of the first people to post on Shauna Gilligan's wonderful debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere.   Here is the publisher's description and a reaction of two of Ireland's leading authors to Happiness Comes From Nowhere:

Happiness Comes From Nowhere 
Happiness Comes From Nowhere follows the lives of the Horn family: Mary, Sepp and Dirk. Their paths cross and intertwine with those of extended family, friends and acquaintances as journeys are made through the changing city of Dublin. People also venture further in search of happiness: Mary and Dirk wander the streets of Rome and Ita watches a cargo ship unload in Spain. Expressed in ways as different as suicide, art and sex, the inseparable pangs of loss and happiness – remembered and present – are threaded through the novel.
'A refreshingly thoughtful novel, poised and unpredictable. Delicious in its sensuous details and mischievous sense of humour. Happiness Comes from Nowhere is a truly impressive debut from a writer of exceptional talent.'

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

'In Shauna Gilligan’s unsettling novel-in-stories, Dirk has troubles that his mother Mary may not be able to right, much as she tries. Gilligan writes intimately of one mother’s possessiveness, devotion and ambition for her son. Rich with insight, this is a book that informs as much as it haunts. As a début it is a very fine piece of work.’
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Happiness Comes from Nowhere is the sort of book that rewards a single reading; the parts fit together like a jigsaw, and it’s nice to keep them fairly close in one’s mind so that the narrative thread remains pretty whole. I liked the way that characters were introduced and having bit parts in one story then become the centre of a later story. And yet, although each part can stand alone, there is a narrative development about loss, which comes together towards the end.

 My Interview with
Shauna Gilligan

Your book is part about very lonely people, people who have only the smallest
anchors in life. Do you think there is something in the culture, history,
or psyche of the Irish that has caused such a heavy focus on loneliness in the
literature of Ireland?

That’s a really interesting question, Mel. I do think loneliness is part of the Irish
psyche. I have an inkling that it’s to do with a sense of belonging (or not belonging),
being part of either a modern urban or a more traditional rural landscape. It’s
also connected with how the sense of belonging changes with colonization and

What is the genesis of your interest in Suicide?

Ireland has one of the highest rates of suicide in Europe. Depression is rife. In fact
the statistics show that the mortality rate from suicide in the 15-24 age group is
currently the fourth highest in the EU and the third highest among young men aged
15-19.1 Luckily, charities such as SOS ( and Console
( among others are helping make people more aware of this
issue, helping people speak about it. It’s not an individual problem. It’s society’s
problem. In Happiness Comes from Nowhere I try to look at the possible effects of
(attempted) suicide through different lenses.

Why did you choose to not write Happiness Comes From Nowhere in a linear

In fact the first draft was in a linear fashion but as I re-drafted and revised, the minor
characters grew and as they did, so too did the stories within stories. They knit
themselves into the larger story that became the composite novel that Ward Wood

Tell us a little about your writing habits. Did you have the general plan for your
book in place before you began it?

I don’t follow any particular method of writing when approaching novels or short
stories. I approach each work on its own. I try to be open to the forms it may need to
encompass so that the writing becomes what it needs to become.
With Happiness Comes from Nowhere, I didn’t have a general plan but I did know the
beginning and the end and in fact these were the first chapters I wrote!

Who are some of your favorite short story writers?

Alice Munro is probably my favorite short story writer right now.

How do you normally find new to you writers?

I discover writers usually through recommendation by real life or on-line friends.
Reviews also help – if I’ve heard of a writer, for example, but not had the time to
investigate, a review will jog my memory and I’ll order straight away.

Who are your favorite famous dead poets?

At the moment: Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickenson, Hart Crane, Patrick Kavanagh.

Does Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo do a better job of bringing a big city life?

Deciding between writers is such a personal choice. Faced with Dickens or Hugo I’d
find that choice hard, to be honest. I think they both do a fine job in their own right.
That is to say, within their own cultural contexts.

Who are your picks for world's three best short story writers?-Mine are Anton
Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Katherine Mansfield with maybe Flannery
O'Connor somehow working her way into the list the more I read her work.

I’d be with you on Chekhov. And then I’d have to say Mansfield, Munro, Elizabeth
Bowen, Seán O’Faolain. But not necessarily in that order. I also love Sam Shepard’s
short works.

Do you mind telling us a bit about your experiences in Mexico and India?

I spent far more time in Mexico than I did India so I feel I know the place better, at
least central Mexico where I lived. It was a wonderful experience. India was also very
special but the time I spent there was in short bursts – usually between 3 and 6 weeks
at a time. But the working hours were very long so my impressions were based on
what I saw and experienced in New Delhi and Hyderabad. I did some travelling (to
Rajasthan, for example) though not half of what I would have liked. In both places,
though, the colors, the heat and the smells were what stayed with me. All in total
contrast to this little island in the Atlantic.

What is your reaction to Edmund Burke's telling the English that they had no right to rule India, a culture much older than their own.?

I read Burke’s Reflections on the Revolutions in France many years ago and he was
pretty radical in once sense although not necessarily from a twenty-first century
viewpoint. I think colonialism world-wide has a lot to answer for. The problems it
caused are evident in many on-going conflicts.

My great thanks to Shauna Gilligan for her very interesting and insightful remarks.

You can learn more about her work on her very well done webpage.

Vanessa Gebbie has a very fascinating interview with Gilligan on her blog as well as a post on Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  

Sue Guiney also has a  post on the novel as well as an interview with Gilligan on her blog.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir   has also done a great interview with Shauna.  It is always fascinating to sit in as highly talented writers talk to each other.

The Irish Examiner has done a very favorable article on her, including an author biography.   

My post on Happiness Comes From Nowhere.

Author Biography

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Shauna Gilligan has worked and lived in Mexico, Spain, India and the UK. She holds an MA in History from University College Dublin having also studied English as an undergraduate. She is completing a PhD in Writing at the University of Glamorgan, Wales and occasionally lectures in NUI Maynooth in Creative Writing.
As part of her research, she is examining suicide and writing processes in a selection of novels by and in a series of interviews with Irish writer Desmond Hogan.
Her work has been published in The Cobalt ReviewThe Stinging Fly (online), The First Cut, New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writingand in The Ulster Tatler’s Literary Miscellany. She has given public readings of her fiction in Ireland and USA and has presented on writing at academic conferences in Ireland, UK, Germany and USA.

Her debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere is receiving great reviews from all over the world.

I completely endorse Happiness Comes From Nowhere to all lovers of fine fiction.  I think it could easily become a classic.   I hope to read many more works by Gilligan.

Mel u