"Memories of Swinging London"
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.