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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1933, 147 pages)

This is a savage novel with the power to hurt 

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1903 to 1940-USA- he died in an automobile accident) is one of the very best 20st century American novels to expose directly the dark side of the American dream.   Harold Bloom includes it along with Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and  parts of Gravity's Rainbow as the only examples of the sublime in the American novel in the 20st century.   He also points out the very strong influence on The Crying of Lot 49  of Miss Lonelyhearts.  As soon as I read this, I saw it was true.

Parts of Miss Lonelyhearts are terrible, terrible in an old fashion way meaning terrifyingly deep and overwhelmingly sad.   It is about the preterite of New York City in the early 1930s.  

Miss. Lonelyhearts is really a man who writes an advise column for a New York City newspaper.   The letters he receives are desperate and heartbreaking.  They send him into a downward cycle of depression. He tries to escape this, we never learn his actual name, with three affairs, including one with the wife of a letter writer, and his deep belief in Jesus.  (If you are seeking help with a school assignment to avoid reading the book, I suggest you check the Wikipedia article.)   He ends up being invited to a dinner by one of his letter writers, a crippled man.  His wife tries to seduce him 
She tells her husband that he tried to rape her.

There are deep religious themes in this book, Harold Bloom (for whose opinion I have a lot of respect) says it is really a story about being Jewish in American ( West's real name was  Nathan von Wallenstein Weinstein.   The ending is very shocking and will keep me thinking for a long time.

I urge everyone to read this novel.   The letters will flabbergast you with their deep sadness and their beauty. The character of Miss Lonelyhearts is just brilliant.   This is a savage novel with the power to hurt its readers when they see their own lives in its pages.

West was also a Hollywood screen writer and wrote  three novels, none considered on a par with this one.  His second best work is considered to be The Day of the Locusts.  Ten or so of his screen plays were made into movies but I am not familiar with any of them.

Please share your experience with West with us.  This novel in the the public domain and can be downloaded for free.  You can also download it for $8.95 from Amazon.

Miss Lonelyhearts sounds heartbreaking,
I love it already-Carmilla-
Mel u

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Room 313" by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

"Room 313" by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (2012, 4 pages)

"I knew you were too good-looking to be Irish"

I am always glad to see a new short story by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, one of my favorite contemporary  writers. I have previously posted on her most recent collection of short stories which I really liked, Mother America and a collection of her wonderful poetry, The  Juno Charm, which includes an interview with her. I have a copy of another of her collections of short stories Welcome to the World of Men and other Stories and I plan to post about it during the 2013 Irish short story event on The Reading Life, set to begin March 1, 2013, hopefully.

"Room 313" appears in Five Dials, a new to me online literary journal.   There are also stories by Kevin Barry and Lydia Davis in the same issue.  (I will provide a link at the bottom of my post, which will be brief as I mostly want my readers to know they can read this beautiful story for free).

The story is about a woman from the Ukraine working as a hotel maid in Ireland.    It is told in a very creative fashion as if the narrator is talking to the maid.   We follow her as she enters one of the rooms she has to clean up.   We learn of the kind of guests she likes to clean up after, business travelers as they are very neat and families with children as they often leave behind toys and other things she can give to her own children.   Lovers are the  worse as they make a terrible mess of the bed, leaving nasty stains all over the room.   She misses her daughter back home, she never hears from her much anymore.

The head house keeper and some of the other maids will not clean up 313 as they think it is bad luck.   You do not mind as you got a hundred pound tip from a guest in the room so you see it as your lucky room.

The maid has a very interesting encounter with a guest in the room.   I did not see it coming.

"Room 313" is a very interesting perfectly done story.   We meet and get to know a hotel maid, your voiceless person, something sort of big happens in her life and we see how she reacts to it.   We also get to know one of the guests, though only a little.

The Five Dials webpage is here.   I took a quick look at several issues of Five Dials and there appear to be some very interesting stories by well known authors in the back issues.

Author Biography

Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a full-time fiction writer and poet, living in Galway county. She has published four collections of short fiction, three poetry collections - one in an anthology, and one novel. Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She has worked as an arts administrator in theatre and in a writers' centre; as a translator, as a bookseller and also in a university library. Nuala teaches creative writing on a part-time basis.

Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a full-time fiction writer and poet, living in Galway county. She has published four collections of short fiction, three poetry collections - one in an anthology, and one novel. Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She has worked as an arts administrator in theatre and in a writers' centre; as a translator, as a bookseller and also in a university library. Nuala teaches creative writing on a part-time basis.

You can learn more about her works and purchase her book on her very well done webpage.

Mel u

Friday, September 28, 2012

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605 and 1615, 940 pages, translated by Edith Grossman, 2002)

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1547 to 1616) is the most influential novel ever written.   Harold Bloom in his introduction says it is the greatest novel ever written.  I have never read a book I enjoyed more than this or one that moved me more deeply.    On the covers of the paperback edition there are quotes from great writers of the modern era like Mann and Nabokov suggesting all novels since DQ was published are its descendants.

When I started The Reading Life in July 2009 I planned to make it mainly about literary works that focus on the lives of people who lead reading, in part at least, centered lives.  I had a list of fifty books in mind.  I got distracted and the rest is history but  with Don Quixote I am happy to return to my origins.   There is no better novel about the reading life than this one and there just might not be a better one period.

The "big question" is what does the quest of  Don Quixote mean?    Everyone will have their own answer but it is a question that cannot be avoided by anyone with a real interest in world culture or the history of the novel.      It is one of the cornerstones of world culture, not just the Spanish speaking world.  

I am having a hard time articulating why I love this book so much.     To be interested in the novel and not reading Don Quixote is pretty much like being interested in English drama and never having read Shakespeare.   (He and Cervantes both died on the same day.)

To me there is something profoundly amazing about reading a book started in prison more than four centuries ago and seeing it relate directly to your own life.   When I told my wife I was reading a famous book about a man driven crazy by reading too much it was all she could do not to say, "Oh, just like you".

To my readers, I would say read DQ as young as you can so you can read it over and over as you age and advance in your reading.  

There is magic in this book, powerful old magic and magic as new as it comes.  

I will restrain from saying the first modern novel, is the best one ever written but it is for sure the most influential one.   It is also just great fun to read.    Some people do not like the numerous stories within a story Cervantes uses, Clifton Fadiman, who listed the book in his A Lifetime Reading Plan, says to skip these stories.  OK some are a bit longish but do not skip them.  

I do not know if Grossman's translation is a good one, the experts say it is a great, but I know the prose in this work is marvelous.   I also like her footnotes, they are at the bottom on the page and give us just the information you need.  DQ is also a great account of Spain in the early 1600s.    I read a bit of another new translation (in the edition by John Rutherford from Penguin Books) and it felt musty and that is one of the very last words I would use to describe the book.   I disliked that translation so much (somehow I ended up with two different translations on my book shelves for the last several years) that I left it in a public place with a note saying "free book".  I will keep the Grossman translation forever.  

I will say I prefer as a general rule reading on my IPAD to reading books but in the case of Don Quixote I am glad to have read it in book format and I like seeing it on the shelves.  I hope to read it again a year from now.  

Do not let any notions of not letting "the canon" being crammed down your reading throat keep you   from experiencing this book.    I could see it being read 1000 years from now in other galaxies as the best of the human race's literature.This is not a staid, boring literature majors only book.  It is not a "hard book".  

Ok enough ranting.  I love this book and I hope you will try it.      One of many the wonderful things about  DQ is how the conversations between Don Quixote and Sancho change them.  

Please share your experience with Don Quixote with us.  If you do not want to read it, tell us why.  

Mel u

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Guest Post by Richard Long-Author of The Book of Paul

A Guest Post

Please enjoy this guest post by Richard Long, author of the nail-biting supernatural thriller,The Book of Paul. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $300 in Amazon gift cards, 5 autographed copies of the book, and a look into your future through a free tarot reading performed by the author.
 Laura gave me my first tarot deck. It was a Crowley. A lot of people get creeped out by Crowley decks, much as they would have been creeped out by Crowley, I imagine. He called himself  ‘The Great Beast.’ To me, he seemed more like a big joke.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!”
Stop it, you’re killing me.
You just read the opening lines of The Bone King, a prequel to The Book of Paul.  They happen to be true. Laura gave me my first deck. I still have it and use it. In fact, I’ll be using it shortly to provide Skype tarot readings for two lucky winners of my Whirlwind Blog Tour. I’m looking forward to the readings. The winners? I suppose that depends on which cards come up.
Actually, I don’t give scary tarot readings, I just write about scary tarot readings. People have enough fear and stress in their lives without me throwing more gas on the flames. Besides, the three scariest trump cards–The Hanged Man, Death and The Tower–can all be interpreted in very unscary ways. Most of the time.
William, the narrator of The Book of Paul, lives in the East Village/Alphabet City of New York in the years before gentrification made it a much less fun and frightening place. He makes a living doing tarot and numerology readings, same as the author did at the time. Like me, he is also a collector, but that’s where the similarities end. He collects ancient occult codices, some covered in human skin. He collects other things that are even more…disturbing.
The mythology of The Book of Paul is based largely on my very unique (so unique you’ll never see it anywhere else) interpretation of the twenty-two trump cards of the tarot.  As William endeavors to unravel Paul’s nefarious intentions, he discovers an arrangement of the trumps that reveals the true story being told. In the following excerpt from one of William’s journal entries, Paul congratulates William on his discovery (which is not revealed, so no spoiler alert!) and rewards his efforts with a very special gift to add to his collection, and the promise of an even greater prize.
A fabulous tarot reading from Richard Long? A Kindle Fire?
No, William isn’t as lucky as three of you wonderful readers.
He’s about to have his very first look at The Book of Paul, a gift that comes with a very hefty price tag.
“You’ve done exceptionally well here,” Paul said, “but you’re never gonna get to the bottom of this no matter how many of those old books you poke your nose into.”
“And that’s because…”
“For starters, those writings were deliberately intended to disguise the truth in countless metaphors and scrambled codes to keep the idiots at bay. They’ve been translated, and re-translated back into the original demotic, Coptic or Greek countless times, every scribe adding his own pontifical touch in his glorious interpretation. Of the more accurate writings, there’s more missing from the tracts than what remains, as you’ve seen in the Drivel of Mary. You’ve about as much luck hitting pay dirt in those dustbins as those literalist born-agains have of seeing the Rapture. However, I have a gift for you that should prove far more enlightening, if you apply yourself with half the dedication of these research efforts.”
He reached deeply into his pocket and told me to close my eyes. “Don’t go using yer second sight and spoil the surprise.” I nodded and felt him place a large rectangular object in my left hand. “Okay, open ’em.”
It was a tarot deck. Older than any I’d seen. The paintings were incredibly detailed and absolutely exquisite. I turned them over one by one, The Hero, The Herald, The Oracle—all the trumps labeled with Paul’s titles. “These are amazing!” I said, awed and yes, flattered by his incredible gift. I had a hard time spitting it out, but I managed to say, “Thank you.”
“You’ve earned it,” he grunted, taking the cards back before I had a chance to look at the rest of them, setting the cards down gently on the table. “But don’t stay up too late gazing at them. This deck can be quite…entrancing.”
“Is there something else I should know about it?” I asked apprehensively.
“Indeed, there is. Get a good night’s sleep and meet me in the chapel tomorrow. I’m bumping you up to the advanced class, so make sure your eyes are bright and your head is clear. You’ve earned a little taste of the Gospel according to Paul.”

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Book of Paul eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $300 in Amazon gift cards, 5 autographed copies of the book, and a look into your future through a free tarot reading performed by the author.
All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes isRIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!
To win the prizes:
  1. Purchase your copy of The Book of Paul for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event
About The Book of Paul:  A cross-genre thriller that combines the brooding horror of Silence of the Lambs with the biting humor of Pulp Fiction.  Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
About the author: 
Richard Long is the author of The Book of Paul and the forthcoming young-adult fantasy series The Dream Palace.  He lives in Manhattan with his wonderful wife, two amazing children and wicked black cat, Merlin. Visit Richard on his websiteTwitterFacebook, or GoodReads.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Under Covers" by Carys Bray

"Under Covers" by Carys Bray  (2012, 5 pages)

Carys Bray is the author of a soon to be published collection of short stories, Sweet Home, that won the 2012 Scott Prize, awarded annualy for the best first collection of short stories by a single author.  Sweet Home will be published in the UK, Australia and the USA by Salt Publications, one of the UK's most prestigious houses.   I will shortly be posting on her wonderful collection and today I want to share with my readers my thoughts on one of her stories and, much more importantly, provide a link where you can read this story as well as others.  To my mind it is the mark of a generous and self-confident author to make samples of their work available. online.  

Official Author Bio

Carys Bray writes  short fiction and co-edits Paraxis with Claire Massey and Andy Hedgecock. I've had stories published in New Fairy Tales, Black Market Review, Flash Mob: Flax026, The Pygmy Giant, Mslexia, The Front View, The Delinquent, Dialogue, The Ranfurly Review, The Yellow Room and PoemMemoirStory. Several stories are available for download via Ether Books and Goggle Publishing. She won the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story MA Prize and the Strictly Writing Award. Her Scott Prize winning collection Sweet Home will be published in November 2012.   She is from Liverpool, England and is currently completing her PhD.

I really like "Under Covers". It is beautifully written and brings the people in the story very to life. The central character is Carol. an older woman, many years a widow  In just a few pages Bray takes us deeply inside Carol's marriage and in a brilliant stroke midterm in the story we are shown Carol from the point of view of two teenage girls, neighbors of Carol.   There is a lot to admire in this story and I will explain as I can why I admire it so much without spoiling the plot for future readers.  (At the end of the post I will provide a link to the author's very well done webpage where you can read this and other stories.)

The story starts with Carol in her yard, getting her laundry in from the clothes line.    Her bra has somehow gotten blown off the clothes line and is spread out on the hedge "like a monstous, albino bat".   Carol wants to retrieve it as it would be embarrassing for her to have an undergarment out where all her neighbors could see it.

Next door young Sophia and Lousia look out the window and see the bra.   They are shocked at the size of it.   One of them says she bets Carol has never had sex, the girls are at the giggling about what it would be like to kiss boys stage, and the other says no she has two children so she must have done something at least a couple of times.

Carol thinks back to long ago.   She remembers her husband and ponders their sex life.   Her husband loved her deeply and had a passion for her that never passed as the years went by.   There is a very poignant moment in her reflections on the past that shows the shallowness and vapidity in the remarks of her teenage auditors.

I love this story for its account of the romantic life of the couple.   It deals very sensitively with one of the issues the young have world wide, accepting and respecting the sexual passions and love for each other of those much older than themselves.   You can easily visualize the neighborhood girls peering out the window and having a good time laughing at Carol.  They are not mean or malicious at all, just teenagers, if they are lucky someone will love them as much as Carol's husband did her.

You can learn more about Carys Bray's work and read some of her short stories on her webpage

I will be posting on her wonderful collection, Sweet Home, in October.

Mel u

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Book of Paul by Richard Long

The Book of Paul by Richard Long (2012)

From the Working Papers of Blaine Nhugleter
assistant director New Caladonia
Institution of Ancient Studies
preliminary conclusions on
The Book of Paul

Date 612 POL- Diecembeir 22-

For the last thirty cycles I have been assigned to study an early 21st century text , The Book of Paul.   It appears to have been transcribed  by an American ( from once well known country whose history has yet to be uncovered since 1 POL, perhaps called United Islands of America-some say it was once a single land mask but this is contrary to approved historical doctrines) named Richard Long.   It is the only surviving text up until books were once again allowed in 313 POL.  My life work and my passion is to try to reconstruct their  society from this text.  Obviously it was a considered a holy text otherwise it would have been destroyed in 112 P O L, in the Great Purging.   It was saved through electronic tablets.   I feel the term "book" must refer to a revelation from figures in the shadows, the watchers and I conclude that The Book of Paul was the source of the basic beliefs of the era and also an attempt to preserve the folkways of a dying culture for whatever future Long knew was coming.    Long himself is not the prophet, not the Godhead, he is the chronicler of Paul and those who first followed him.   

We know from the events prior to the peace brought to our planet by the blessed colonization of our world by the Overlords of Valrenedet that people once lived in what were called families.   They depended on the exchange of intrinsically valueless pieces of paper to survive.    In times of decay we know that there are many competing to be worshiped for their wisdom.   Long talks about the various occult doctrines (for an explanation of this please see director Wurtenberg's landmark book Crowley:  The Godhead and my article on the Tarot of Waite in the most recent annual studies of the Institute) which arise when people do not have the Overlords to direct them.  They derive pleasure, almost like what was once known as sexual, from pain.  In one chapter, "Stigmata" Paul shows great love for his disciple Martin by nailing his hand to a wooden desk. The pain felt by Martin makes me almost long for the time before our pain sensors were removed.   I hope we will be able to explain the culture import of the word "stigmata" one day as it is in no existing vocabulary tablets.   Paul appears to have been in competition with one other 21st century cult figure, Jesus, but I can find no reference to him outside of the work of Long so I am assuming he lost out to Paul.

Based on The Book of Paul, women appeared to take delight in being abused.  The most prized of the species stood ready at anytime to open their various orifices to any passer by for usage as needed.   An unsatisfactory byproduct of these actions were offspring produced through a clearly barbaric method of reproduction.   Hunting small animals, called rats (the last small animals disappeared many 100s of cycles ago so we do not know why these rats were so hated) was an important religious ritual in which young men were trained by minor cult leaders called "daddys".   

My studies  show, I think, how we can reconstruct a vast society, ruled by violence, dominated by a lust for pieces of paper that you could obtain items (and other people) with from The Book of Paul.  Paul, I do know he was considered by many both a wonderful and  terrible figure, obtained great wealth through something called the "Intreneit". All we know of this is that upon the arrival of our benevolent overlords it was outlawed on the pain of death.  I know I will pass before I have unraveled this text but it is my glory to have been exposed to it and I long above all for one who could nail my hand to the desk and then allow me to witness his coupling with female acolytes who would then cook us delicious meals from what I can only imagine rats were.   May the blessings of  Paul   be upon you.   

End of the fragment of the working notes of Blaine Nhugleter

The Book of Paul was a compulsive read for me.  I kept wondering what terrible amazing thing was going to happen next.   What horrible things will Paul do and what sufferings will fall on his follower Martin.  There are just a lot of amazing scenes in this book.  In one especially amazing segment we take a visit to a store where books made from human skin are for sale. The scene where a man's hand is nailed to a table, with skill used to avoid any arteries or bones is as horrific and marvelously done set piece of sadism as I have read in a good while.   The book goes deeply into the occult.  I think it is safe to say many of the ideas came from works like The Book of Toth by Aleisiter Crowley which  drew on early 20th century English occult circles understanding of the Kabbalah and Egyptian doctrines.   

The novel more or less begins in the East Village area of New York City, a very rough part of town.  Martin and a tattoo artist named Rose have a romantic encounter and soon become pawns in a giant conspiracy which the sinister Paul is behind.   

The Book of Paul will for sure appeal to lovers of paranormal occult themed books.  It will satisfy the lusts for pain of the most masochistic among us while accepting our own darker drives.  The action is nonstop, there is a lot of interesting data about things like quantum physics, Irish mythology,  technology and alternative religions outside the main stream.  The ultimate theme is a battle to control the universe with Paul becoming more and more powerful.   

Book lovers will love the obsession with ancient texts and secret narratives.   The chapters are short and you never really know what to expect as you start one.   The writing is compelling.

Underlying The Book of Paul is a rewriting of the underlying myths of western culture, a Gnostic and thoroughly Manichean view of life powers this story and the part of me that decades ago was very into similar occult doctrines finds them to still have power.   There is also a lot of sex in this book, child abuse and lots of other nasty things to keep you reading.  This is not a book for the squeamish, it is not a Harlequin Romance.  Nothing is what it seems to be at first, our perceptions of events constantly change.

There is a great description of the book on Long's webpage.

One of the things I like most about The Book of Paul is just how much of a reading life book it is, everything in this book that matters comes from the power of reading.   There is something magic in the act of reading and Long knows that.   

An Ebook is available for only $0.99 (120 pesos).   There is a lot in this  500 plus page book and I think anyone, with the qualification that this a very adult in part x- rated book, will find this an exciting read.  Those with a taste for the Occult (True Blood fans like myself will totally relate), who like lots of action and suspense and don't mind lead characters they can hate, will love this book.  I know I did.   

It feels like Long was driven to write this book, almost as if it were really a holy text placed in his consciousness by the Overlords.   I see dark figures reading this book from way back in my past and maybe from the future also.  

Mel u

"Silence" and "Synge and his Family" by Colm Toibin

"Synge and his Family"  (2012, Chapter Four of New Ways to Kill Your Mother)
"Silence"     (2011)

The Irish Quarter

I am now firmly convinced that John M. Synge (1871 to 1909-most famously author of The Playboy of the Western World) is the third most important figure in modern Irish literary history.   I am still pondering how Lady Augusta Gregory, co-founder and patron of the Abby Theater, should be viewed.   Much of my current understanding of her was shaped by my reading of Lady Gregory's Toothbrush by Colm Toibin.  Clearly she was of at least two minds.   On the one hand she was deeply into Irish culture and on the other she as deeply aristocratic, she was very hard on her tenant farmers and basically romanticized the ordinary people of Ireland while looking down on them as individuals.   

"Silence" is  the lead story in Colm Toibin's most recent collection of short stories, The Empty Family.   In this story, which does not let us know who it was about until a few pages have gone by probably so we will not prejudge Gregory, we see how Gregory viewed herself.   We learn of her long term adultery, we learn a good bit about her marriage, and we see how society viewed her.   "Silence" is a very good story.   I think it helps if you know something about why Gregory matters and once you do maybe you will be able to understand her motivations a bit better.   If you want to read this story, you can download the sample eBook from Amazon. 

"Synge and His Family" is a biographical and literary essay from Toibin collection Nine Ways to Kill Your Mother.  ( I think in  Synge one should first read The Playboy of the Western World and then The Aran Islands, followed by the rest of his plays, there are only six and one is incomplete.)  Toibin's essay  is very interesting and I think anyone into Irish literature would profit from reading it.   He tries to "debunk" the notion that W. B. Yeats pushed Synge into going to the Aran Islands, explains his role as the "black sheep" of the family and his long term dependency on his mother.  HE also helps one to understand why his famous play was so controvesial when it was first produced.  

Please share your experience with John Synge or Augusta Gregory with us.

"Sounds ever so dull to me"

Mel U

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lady Gregory's Toothbrush by Colm Toibin

Lady Gregory's Toothbrush by Colm Toibin  (2002, 82 pages-Biography)

Lady Gregory's Toothbrush by Colm Toibin centers on the life of Augusta Gregory (1852 to 1932, Galway, Ireland).   Lady Gregory, she got her title when she married Sir William Gregory, thirty five years her senior,one time governor of Ceylon and considered to have been instrumental in passing laws while a member of parliament that made the fates of the Irish peasants much worse during the famine years.   Gregory, partially thorough and maybe largely through her contact with William Butler Yeats and John M. Synge, came to idolize and romanticize those same peasants while never abandoning the sense of entitlement her marriage gave her.   She is sometimes seen as a hypocritcal figure who spoke of her love for freedom and her wish for a better life for the peasants of Ireland while clinging to her  big house, her Anglo-Irish money and her view of real life ordinary Irish people outside of her small circle as unwashed people who mostly did not own toothbrushes.

Lady Gregory helped found and directed the famous Abby Theater in London.   Toibin does a great job of explaining why this theater was very important in the creation of a sense of Irish identity through plays like The Playboy of the Western World by John Synge.  When the play was first preformed there were riots at the Abby Theater, partially caused by references to Irish women in "shifts" and by its seeming portrayal of the Irish as loving violence country buffoons .   Lady Gregory, as Toibin explains it, referred to the conflict over this play as the battle between those who use a toothbrush, the play's supporters, and those who do not.  Like many an aristocrat who cry out their love for the common man, she liked them best in plays and stories.

Toibin help me greatly to understand the importance of Lady Gregory to Irish Theater.  Even though it can be argued that she was simply a rich woman buying attention from literary greats with money she inherited from a man who exploited horribly the Irish peasants, there import in the great plays of Synge and O'Casey can be directly traced to her.   She did not just give money, she worked very hard to promote the theater and was a still respected student of Irish folklore.   It is hard to really determine Yeats true feeling for her, he needed her money so everything has to a bit ambiguous.  Toibin handles this brilliantly without forcing an opinion on us.

Toibin's prose is as one would expect wonderful.   Lady Gregory's Toothbrush for sure increased my understanding of the Irish culture.   I am starting to understand more and more the central import of the plays of John Synge and Toibin was very illuminating in his remarks on Synge.   I also learned a good bit more about the background of William Butler Yeat's great poems concerning the death of Lady Gregory's son, the most famous of which is "An Irish Airmen Foresees His Death".

This book was a great pleasure to read.  Toibin also lets us see that Lady Gregory, with deep Anglo-Irish aristocratic roots, her money came directly from Irish peasants working in near slave conditions for her husband and his ancestry, was trying desperately to produce an Irish identity for herself while keeping her deeply entrenched belief that she, along with her primary mentor and patronage recipient, were of an old the natural heirs of an Irish aristocracy going back to the Celts and beyond.  In Lady Gregory's jest about a toothbrush, one seems beneath layers of pretense.

I very much enjoyed this book, learned a lot from it, and I endorse it to anyone interested in Irish literature or history.

It is available from Lilliput Press, Ireland's leading independent publishing house.  A perusal of their catalog is itself a great learning experience.

Mel u

An Interview with Richard Long-author of The Book of Paul

Please enjoy this interview with Richard Long, author of the nail-biting supernatural thriller,The Book of Paul. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $300 in Amazon gift cards, 5 autographed copies of the book, and a look into your future through a free tarot reading performed by the author.

1. Tell us about the spark of inspiration that eventually grew into The Book of Paul.
The initial inspiration for The Book of Paul came when I wrote the first line of the first chapter calledExercises: “He practiced smiling.”  I wanted to explore a character who had been so damaged by childhood trauma that he could no longer feel compassion, joy, affection, and had, accordingly, committed all kinds of horrible acts. I wondered if such a person could ever regain his emotional capacity and be redeemed by love.
2. What was the research process like for this book (which can at times deal with some pretty heady and—frankly—grotesque goings-on)? Any horror stories to share?
There are many aspects to the story, so the research was really extensive. I love doing the research almost as much as the writing, so it’s a joy for me to read and learn so many new things. The creation mythology literally goes back to square one and builds from there, tracing the history of Hermetic and Gnostic philosophy, alchemy, druidism and pagan mythology–particularly Egyptian, Greek and Celtic traditions. There’s also a strong science fiction element involving quantum physics, artificial intelligence, life extension and what’s known as The Singularity. Other lines of exploration involved Irish genealogy and what I call the pain culture: tattoos, elaborate piercings and body modifications.
I made some gruesome discoveries along the way. The most disturbing was the Extreme Body Modification website I stumbled upon, which is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen. I first saw it in the early days of the Internet, which is pretty amazing in itself. I checked recently and it’s still there, though I didn’t have the stomach to peek inside again. I’m actually as squeamish as some of my readers about certain things, which is probably why the horror comes across so vividly. If something scares the hell out of me, it’s easy for me to convey that fear and revulsion.
3. Tell us about Paul. Who is he and what is his book about?
The Book is a 4th century codex, the only one of it’s kind. How and why it was made and what it contains is one of the central mysteries of the series, so I’m not going to spill those beans. Paul is every bit as mysterious. When he is first introduced you might think he’s a serial killer involved with the occult in some way. As the story progresses you discover some really unexpected things about him. One thing is clear from the outset – he is one very nasty piece of work. I’ve always felt that any horror novel or thriller is only as good as the villain. I definitely aimed for the fences with Paul.
4. There is a strong tarot undercurrent to this novel. The protagonist even makes his living by reading the cards. Why did you decide to work it into The Book of Paul, and how does it surface throughout the course of the story?
I actually did tarot and numerology readings when I lived in the East Village many years ago. The tarot led me to a lot of dark occult explorations, which are mirrored in William’s journey. I was lucky enough to pull out of that nosedive and hop over to the Buddhist side of the fence. William is not so fortunate. The reader gets drawn into William’s world through his first person narration as he talks about becoming a collector of ancient occult manuscripts, which leads him to the tarot. Then he gradually reveals more through his journal entries, which contain the meat of the mythology and all the Hermetic and Gnostic lore. Finally, he discovers that the tarot is actually related to an apocalyptic prophecy, which Paul is determined to fulfill by any means necessary, which is very bad news for Billy.
5. At almost 500 pages, this is not a short novel. From start to finish, how long did it take you to write, revise, and ready for publication?
I’ve written over 2,000 pages for The Book of Paul and the series. The first draft of this volume was close to a thousand pages long. I cut out eight characters and their storylines in the second draft, which netted my first agent. She wanted a lower page count, so many of the narrator’s interior musings were cut. Those were actually some of my favorite sections. Then I moved to another agent and he wanted more of the mythology put back in, so it grew close to this size. After six months he hadn’t sold it, so I got sick of the whole process, wrote it the way I wanted, and published it.
6. The concept of synchronicity plays heavily in this novel. What attracts you to it, and has it proven a heavy influence in your own life?
I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. I was raised as a Catholic, but the nuns effectively beat those beliefs out of me quickly. Even as a kid, I couldn’t accept the idea of God as the big guy in the sky with the white beard. Science and mythology and my own imagination showed me all kind of possibilities. I first noticed synchronicity when the number eleven kept showing up for me all over the place–addresses, hotel rooms, etc. Someone suggested I get a book on numerology and I discovered that eleven was my “name number” and also a power number. I started noticing all kinds of things after that, coincidences that were just too weird to brush away. Then I read some Jung, and when I got into quantum physics that sealed the deal. Synchronicity for me now is the manifestation of interconnectedness in the universe. There is nothing you can perceive that isn’t connected to you. As the Buddhists say, “no separate self.”
7. Paul is… scary (we’ll leave it at that). How were you able to effectively become this deranged character, and how did you hang on to your own humanity after the fact?
I would imagine it’s much the same as when Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter. He was very disdainful of method actors who got all caught up in identifying with their characters. There’s a famous story about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man. Hoffman was a method actor and he stayed up all night before their torture scene together and Olivier said something like, “Why don’t you try acting, dear boy?”
That being said, I’m not immune to being disturbed by these things. When I wrote the traumatic scenes of him and Martin–well, I cried when I wrote them and they stayed with me for days. So maybe the method is working for me too.
Paul is great to write because it’s like letting my Id out of a cage. I get to play out my most evil imaginings and nobody gets hurt. I also had to find Paul’s humanity to make him really interesting for me. I didn’t want him to be some cartoon monster. Paul is also in a lot of pain; he was traumatized as a boy and his life was changed forever. By the end of the story you get to see many other sides of him. And of course, there’s a lot more to come.
8. Irish mythology is woven into The Book of Paul, and at one point, Paul even makes a sarcastic quip about the luck of the Irish. Why Irish, and how all does its culture influence the story?
When I’m writing, I go into a daydream state where I imagine the character and what he or she looks like and where they are and what they’re doing. No outline usually. I sit back and watch and listen. If it’s great the way I imagine it, then writing the dialog is like taking dictation. When I wrote the first chapters with Paul, I was surprised because I kept hearing him speak with an Irish brogue, but his accent went in and out – sometimes really thick, sometimes a little lilt, sometimes no accent at all. So I’m thinking, what’s that about?
I come from Irish American stock, but my parents told me absolutely nothing about their parents other than to say they were cruel. So that’s the starting point with Paul. He’s the ultimate bad dad. The more I explored Paul, the deeper it led me into Celtic mythology, Irish genealogy and history. I suppose I’m trying to find the missing links of my own heritage. My grandmother was born in Ireland, so I have dual citizenship, even though I haven’t been there yet. I’m thinking I’ll go next year when I’m writing the third sequel.
9. The Book of Paul is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and in that way, it can be difficult to classify. So tell us, who is your target audience for this novel?
Given the fact that there are some rough episodes in the story, you might think that the so-called target audience would be men who are into horror, thrills and mayhem. But women actually seem to be my biggest, or at least, my most vocal fans. I’ve been getting some really enthusiastic reviews from men, but even more so from women, who surprisingly seem less squeamish than some of the male reviewers.
The Book of Paul doesn’t fit into any neat, tidy genre. It’s very complex and like you say, unlike anything I’ve read before either. There’s a Pulp Fiction element to it, with quirky characters in a seedy environment. There’s a major religious/mythological mystery for the Dan Brown crowd. It’s very funny, but incredibly poignant. It’s very disturbing, but there are lots of fast-paced action scenes. There’s romance and kinky sex. Something for everybody.
10. Why did you decide to self-publish The Book of Paul, and how has the journey been so far?
Read above. The traditional publishing industry in general is like a boxer on the ropes in the tenth round. For fiction it’s even worse. Add first-time novelist to the list and sprinkle on an unclassifiable genre for a little seasoning. I had two agents who were well known and successful, and very enthusiastic about the book. But the editors they reached wouldn’t take a chance on it. I could have kept trying, but frankly, I ran out of patience.
How has it been so far? The book is out in the world and it’s just the way I wanted it. I have complete control over everything I do, including the cover art, which is also exactly how I want it. The marketing is a lot of hard work, particularly the social marketing, which I had never done before. But that’s turned out to be a lot of fun too. I’m meeting so many great people–other authors and readers–and getting such a strong response on the book that it feels like a vindication. See? I told you so. Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Book of Paul eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $300 in Amazon gift cards, 5 autographed copies of the book, and a look into your future through a free tarot reading performed by the author.
All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!
To win the prizes:
  1. Purchase your copy of The Book of Paul for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event
About The Book of Paul:  A cross-genre thriller that combines the brooding horror of Silence of the Lambs with the biting humor of Pulp Fiction.  Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
About the author: 
Richard Long is the author of The Book of Paul and the forthcoming young-adult fantasy series The Dream Palace.  He lives in Manhattan with his wonderful wife, two amazing children and wicked black cat, Merlin. Visit Richard on his websiteTwitterFacebook, or GoodReads.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Desmond Hogan-"Lark's Eggs" and Two More Short Stories

"Memories of Swinging London"
"Lark's Eggs"

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 awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man."  from The Brothers Karamazov 

"But the more I walked by a rubbish dump, the higher the ecstasy, the more suffocating the knowledge I was trapped".  -from "Elysium" 

There are thirty four stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories, as of today, I have posted on twenty one of them.   The more I read Hogan's stories, the more I see in his work.  What will seem like quirks to the first time reader are coming to look like very central elements in his work.  I think the short stories of Desmond Hogan are world class literary treasures.

  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.  (Treating some of the stories one at a time and some in groups is not a value judgement.)  My posts on Hogan are primarily for the purpose now of helping me clarify my understanding of them.   If someone is motivated to read Hogan or appreciates my posts in someway, that is great.  I know that none of Hogan's work can be read online (He has no webpage) but you can purchase an E-Book of this collection for a fair prize.  My posts on the three stories I am writing on today will be brief.  I am going to return to some of these stories during Irish Short Story Week Year Three, set to start March 1 2013.  It will run from one to six months.   I believe Hogan's stories will repay repeat rereading.   At the close of this project I will attempt a post on why I think the stories in this collection are important.   I will attempt also to explain or, I hate to say this, deconstruct his methods, talk about how we are to see the sexuality in the stories and ponder the prevalence of Irish Travelers, Teddy Boys and Gypsies.I will also ponder how we should look at the work of Hogan from the prospective of Northrup Frye, in an effort to explain all of the historical and cultural references and how I am seeing his work as providing  exemplary cases of  "redemptive beauty".  

"Larks' Eggs" , the title story in the collection starts out in Connemara, all of the stories have strong geographical anchors, where the narrator, a youngish man is staying because being there faciliates his father's contact with a Protestant girlfriend.  We are told of herbal and folk medicine ways.   The time is 1934.   Hitler had just become Fuhrer.  This may be designed to evoke Ireland's not entirely negative attitude toward Germany  during WWII.  The story has a lot of references to events and entities from 1934, such as the movie staring Douglas Fairbanks, The Mark of Zorro, a seeming foppish man, in exile from his own culture after returning from a colonial ruler (there are no accidents in  art.!)   The narrator and his father's lady friend find some lark eggs. Here is how they are described, "oval, greenish-white, mottled with pale lavender, with marking of rofous". The word "rofous" was probably last commonly used around 1750.  Understanding these old words is a big part of understanding these stories.  In a way it is all about, as Gilligan told us, about the search for a home.   I am making assumptions about how people talked in the west of Ireland in the 1930s but the vocabulary of the narrator seems way elevated.  The story, like other stories are really in a way lots of mini-stories strung together with our objective being trying to figure out what they have to do with each other.    This passage really has a lot in it, enough for numerous academic articles no doubt:

"There was rumoured to have been a homosexual orgy in the rugby changing rooms in the mental hospital grounds that winter, men whose genitals smelt of young mushrooms.."

All of the men in the orgy, which might be a real event or just sort of a legend, were married but for one of them.  At the time of the story, committing a homosexual act could get you put in a mental hospital.  

There is a lot more in this story.   There are some very interesting passages about the differences between Ireland and England and how being in England effect people once they came home.

"Memories of Swinging London" is one of the longest stories in the collection. I have only read it once and I really want to read it a couple of times more before I attempt to post on it in any serious way.   It felt like a truly great work of art on my first reading.   It centers on a man, an Irishman of course, living in London.  It is narrated in the third person (about half the stories are in the first person) and we learn the narrator has been drunk and depressed for the last three weeks because Marion left him.     The central character, Liam, meets a nun at a drama class, one with a Kerry accent.  She wonders who the "Irish drunk" is, even though she notices he is a well dressed one.  She was from west Kerry and had spent a few months doing church work in Africa.  (No matter what you read in Irish literature, drinking, the church and depression will show up).  She studied English literature in Dublin.   She taught drama classes.  He is from Galway, from Ballinasloe.  Now they have a bond, her father used to go to the horse fair there.   He is into Keats and Byron.   He thinks of his wife who left him.  They talk about what they miss about Ireland and what they appreciate most about London.  He appreciates the freedom.   Oscar Wilde famously said he did not become Irish until he moved to England.   This is part of what this story is about.  There is a huge more to this story and I hope to do an individual post on it in 2013.  

"Elysium" just like "Memories of Swinging London" is about someone from Ireland, from bog country (I think being from "bog country" means you are more "Irish" than a big city person).  In this very interesting story, the narrator is a  woman who has been in England for about ten years.   In her teenage years she had lots of casual relationships with men and she developed a bad reputation and brought down a lot of jealousy on herself from her sisters.   (Remember in "Embassy" we learn that women who seems promiscuous were sometimes put in mental hospitals and adultery by a woman was seen as more serious than arson.)  She marries young to a man with some money, he owned a garage and wore American cowboy and western apparel.  (The roots of American country music are in Ireland, this is part of what this is referring to, it tied into the search for a home.)   As the woman gets older, has some children and loses some of her body beauty she comes to see herself as more than just a once sexually vibrant person, she becomes a poet.  She remembers hearing voices in her dreams to go to the bog to receive messages from God.   We see her life go on.  The money keeps pouring in.   She has a kind of revelation as she walks along the beach next to the sluice gate of a sewer.   There is a world in why she has this revelation walking along the beach next to the gate of a sewer, pouring its material into the ocean.   I will return to this story also in 2013.  

Larks' Eggs and Other Stories by Desmond Hogan can be purchased from Lilliput Press, the premier source for quality books from and about Ireland.

Happiness Comes From Nowhere, Shauna Gilligan's marvelous debut novel, can be found here. 

Mel u