"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.