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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quare Hawks by Eddie Stack

Quare Hawks by Eddie Stack (2012, a collection of Short Stories)

Eddie Stack (County Clare, Ireland) is a great story teller.  His works, often set in the west of Ireland, are beautifully written and a great pleasure to read.   I have previously posted on two of Stack's collections of short stories, The West:   Stories from Ireland and Out of the Blue.   Needless to say, I would not have read a third collection of his stories if I did not like the first two.

Eddie Stack is one of Ireland's most famous contemporary authors.    He has been reviewed with great favor in the mainstream print world by publications like The New York Times, The Observer, and The San Francisco Chronicle to name just a few.   The people in his stories may just be "ordinary people" but there is nothing ordinary about the Irish and Stack does a wonderful job of proving this point.   

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 include an official author bio and a link to Stack's webpage at the end of my post as well as some general remarks on why I like this collection so much.


"The locals were  wary of Bobogue.   Children whispered that she was a witch, adults said she was odd, that there was a stain in her blood.   Thirty years or old or maybe more, she'd never had a job and drew Social Welfare as an unemployed poet".

As soon as I read these opening lines I already had to know what was going to happen next and Stack did not disappoint me.   There is a valuable lesson in this story.   Do not trifle with the affections of a witch, especially if you are married.   This was a totally fun very suspenseful story.   Something bad happens in this story and I loved it.  It is also a story about the folly in preying sexually on those who might be a bit mentally ill!

"Blue Money"

"Bored and penniless, they were sixteen and had just finished school for the summer"

This is a very sad, very real story about the work the devil can find for idol hands.   John and Marty are fishing in the woods, more because they have nothing else to do and no money to do it with than for much of another reason.  One day they are shocked to see two strangers in the woods, women a bit older than them, nice looking ones for that matter.  The women, Suzy and Blue introduce themselves.   The boys cannot help but think of having sex with them. taking them for a ride is the slang term,    Marty's heart goes wild when he sees one  has on no underwear.   As you might guess this story is not going to have any kind of happy ending especially when one of the boys decides to steal the poor box from the church in order to buy a ride from the women.   The end is worse than we can imagine.   I guess it is part of the Irish tradition of no sex without punishment!

"When Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters"

This teeming with crazy events and people story begins on dole day at Paddy Petty's combination post office and shop.   He is in charge of giving out the dole in his area and he makes some money on dole day when people have some money.   He wears three hats-government dole paymaster, post   office manager and shop keeper.  He is around 50, his wife left him ten years ago and he has a woman, described as an old hippie, who comes and stays with him three or so days a month.   Then one day a large group of very strange looking people show up on dole day wanting to collect.  Things get crazier and crazier in this story and he ends up having to call in three policeman with machine guns to keep order on dole day.    This is a good story of cultural conflict and coping with change.  I liked the ending a lot.    It reminded me of Seamus O'Kelly's great story "The Can with the Diamond Notch".

"It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Man"

"Get out of the car your pervert.."

This is another story that goes way below the surface of its characters.   I do not want to say much at all about this story as I do not want to spoil it for first time readers.   A rather manly quite large and physically imposing woman joins the local police force, moving from out of town.    She meets a woman there and starts a relationship with her.   Nothing is ever overtly said but it is clear the policewoman has romantic feelings for the other woman, who may not see the signs.   They eat together some nights at a local hotel where the other woman invites her friend, an older confirmed bachelor and a local farmer whose avocation and passion is growing orchids to join them.  Things get strange and then it seems to be ready to end ugly.   I liked this story a lot for its ability to get below the stereotypes of life in small towns in the west of Ireland.

"Mr Jones"

"He'll never stop drinking now.   Do you think he will?  I don't, he's too old to stop, he's 72."

This is a really well done story told from the point of view of a woman married to a man who drinks way to much.   She goes on and on about how most women would have left him long ago but she believes in marriage.   As the story goes on I was thinking what a lucky man he is to have such a loyal wife then the ending seemed to want to pull the rug out from under me.   I had to rethink all of my perceptions about the wife.   This story is a most enjoyable very intelligent read, like all of Stack's work I have read.

"After Hours"

"It was well past closing time and the pub was crowded, dark, and steamy"

Lots of drinking in the Irish short story, way more than in short stories from Indian or the Philippines.   Per my brief Google research, the Irish rank way up their in per capita drinking.   Just like it sounds, this really fun story is set in a pub where everybody knows everybody and anybody who is not there is going to get their reputation trashed.   The story is told as time passes in the pub and things get more and more intense as the night goes on.    This is just a flat out pleasure to read and captures the speech of the people in the pub wonderfully.

There are five other excellent stories in this collection.  I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, especially one set in the west of Ireland.   Stack's stories are a delight to read, wonderfully written and have a strong insight into the human condition

Author Bio

Eddie Stack has received several accolades for his fiction, including an American Small Press of the Year Award, and a Top 100 Irish American Award. Recognised as an outstanding short story writer, he is the author of four books —The West; Out of the Blue; HEADS and Simple Twist of Fate.

west-sml           blue-sml           heads-sm           simple-twst-sm

His work has appeared in literary reviews and anthologies worldwide, includingFiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts, Southwords and Criterion; State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology andFiction in the Classroom.

A natural storyteller, Eddie has recorded spoken word versions of his work, with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. In 2010, he integrated spoken word and printed work with art, music and song to produce an iPhone app of The West; this was the first iPhone app of Irish fiction.

You can read several samples of Eddie Stack's work on his very well done web page .

To me one of the marks of a self-confident and generous author is the willingness to let people sample his work.   

Stack is a great story teller and artist.   I look forward to reading more of his work.

Mel u

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lady Gregory An Irish Life by Judith Hill

Lady Gregory An Irish Life by Judith Hill  (2011, 616 pages)

"Mancin's portrait of Augusta Gregory,
'Greatest since Rembrandt:, according to John Synge:
A great ebullient portrait certainly,
But where is the brush that could show anything
Of all that pride and that humility".

Lovers of one the finest poets ever to live, William Butler Yeats owe a great debt to Lady Augusta Gregory for her patronage of his work.   She took a great deal of stress of day to day life from Yeats and allowed him to focus on his writings.  If this was all Lady Gregory did the literary world and Ireland would owe her a great debt to her.    It is not easy to see at first the great importance and the amazing accomplishments of Lady Gregory.   She lived intentionally in the shadow of men, she never really quite rose above her patrician Anglo Irish roots but she brought about the rebirth of the Irish theater, was an avid student and preserver of West Irish folk ways, an excellent writer and in addition to being the patron of Yeats she helped John Synge struggle with his personal issues and the public reception to his plays.   I am convinced now Synge is clearly the third most important modern Irish writer behind Joyce and Yeats.    Based on Hill's superb biography I do not think Synge would have had the strength, based on his health and personal issues to go on writing if it were not for Gregory who was a kind of buffer between he and Yeats.   If Yeats and Synge helped create modern Irish identity and built the pride of the nation, Lady Gregory was there making sure it happened.

Augusta Gregory (1852 to 1932-County Galway, Ireland) was born into affluent Anglo-Irish family, with six thousand acres.   Their ancestral home was burned down during the Irish Civil War.   At age 25, she married Sir William Gregory, thirty five years her senior and a former governor of Ceylon.   He was a fairly recent widower and he wanted a "serviceable and appropriate wife" and Augusta and her family were not displeased by a match with a very wealthy  older man.   Through the marriage she became Lady Gregory and from Hill's book I cannot imagine every calling her anything other than "Lady Gregory".

Hill's biography is perfect.   She greatly respects her subject, as she should, but she is not blind to her imperfections.   Lady Gregory was more than a bit elitist, she liked to be the lady of the manor dispensing charity to her tenants, she enjoyed the company of the brilliant men like Yeats and Synge and a cynic could say she bought their  company and forced them to pay attention to her for access to her money.   Hill is forthcoming about the two extra-marital romances in Lady Gregory's Life.   I was fascinated by Hill's description of the time her and her husband spent in Egypt.      Cairo was the exotic east in the late 1800s and it opened visitors to forbidden at home pleasures.

Hill also tells us a lot about the management of the Abbey Theater.   I was fascinated to learn about her thoughts on Maud Goone (she did not like her for Yeats at all) and I was happy to see her acceptance of Yeat's wife, George.   It appears Lady Gregory did not have much of an interest in the occult but she did not criticize those in her circle with strong preoccupations in this area, including Yeats.

W. B. Yeats wrote a very famous and beautiful poem about the death of Lady Gregory's son Robert in World War I. "An Irish Airman Foresees Hus Death" and Hill helped me to understand the background behind this masterwork.

Lady Gregory An Irish Life is a great biography and a work of serious art.   Those interested in Yeats and Synge for sure will love and profit from this book.   It will also be fascinating for those interested in the social history of Ireland, the Irish theater, and the relationship of the sexes in the period.    We also learn a good bit about the troubled lives of her brothers, the lives of her children, grandchildren and daughter-in-laws.

Hill has written a long enough book to tell us a lot about Lady Gregory's life and times.  I started this book with a preconceived notion that Lady Gregory was just a wealthy woman buying some literary attention and Hill accepts the negative aspects of her behaviour and character.   I closed the book with sense of gratitude to Gregory for what she did for Yeats and Synge and to Hill for allowing me to see beyond my preconceptions.

Lady Gregory An Irish Life by Judith Hill is biography at the highest level of art and perspicuity.     It is very well documented and there is an excellent bibliography.   This is a very interesting look at the life of a fascinating woman.   Some may scorn her for her deference to men but she was a product of her time and upbringing and you will close this book with a great deal of respect for a brilliant, very creative and amazingly strong woman.   She was also deeply cultured and I enjoyed learning about her reading life.   Hill tells us enough about the politics of the period to help us under the social background of the events she depicts.

This book is must reading for those interested in the history of Irish Literature.

Hill is a well known historian of Georgian era architecture.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Friday, October 26, 2012

"The Parish Barbeque" by Kate Ferguson -A Short Story

"The Parish Barbeque" by Kate Ferguson -a short story

I am very proud and grateful that Kate Ferguson is allowing me to me the first to publish her wonderful short story, "The Parish Barbecue" (this story is protected under international copyright law and is the property of the author who retains all rights to the story)

On March 23 I began what I thought would be a seven day event,  Emerging Irish Women Writers, during which I would post on the work of Irish women writers who appeared to be at the start of their careers.   This turned out to be  by far the best blogging idea I have had in the three years  plus of The Reading Life.  I was stunned by the quality of the stories I found.   The very first story I posted on was "The Mouse" by Kate Ferguson.   I loved her story and it reminded me of the early work of Katherine Mansfield.  I felt it showed tremendous emotional intelligence.   

As I began to post on the stories for the event I wrote the authors and told them of my project.   Everyone wrote back and soon people began to contact me asking to be included in my series.   For the first time in decades of reading I was in contact with writers and I think my understanding of the process of writing was deepened by this.    I decided emerging Irish writers would be a permanent part of my blog and I am fully convinced if someone, and I hope they will, does an Irish Short Story Week in 2040 some of these writers will be included as great authors.   This project changed forever my blog and really my life.   From it I have many Irish contacts and now beyond this to writers all over the world.   I now have published short stories by writers from the USA, India, Bangladesh and Ireland.  

Author Bio

Kate Ferguson studied English Literature and Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin. While at University, she was editor of the Life Features page of The Record and The University Times and contributed to IcarusMiscellany and Trinity News. She has written feature articles for the Irish Times and The Vienna Review and spent a week working in London at the Comment is Free section of In the summer of 2009 she received a scholarship to study journalism at The University of Bayreuth in Germany, where she had the privilege of working with student journalists from all over the world.   She is currently working as an English teacher and is an aspiring novelist.   Additionally on her web page she tells us she now lives in Berlin and is doing an internship at Spiegel Online International

"The Parish Barbecue"
Kate Ferguson

“I like you,” he had said, pushing a little piece of gravel away from the tip of his sandal with his bare toe.
She mumbled something kind and nondescript.
“You knew already because of my card.”
It was undeniable.  He had cut out ten pink hearts and stuck them to a sheet of cardboard from a cornflake box. On the top, he had written “Happy Valentine’s Day!” in purple pen.  

She nodded and said “Maybe.”
He said, “Do you want to go to the playground?”
And she said “yes” with hollow, guilty brightness.
Their mothers were drinking wine and eating canapés.
She watched them from the swing. His mother had a string of green pearls and hers a neat little hat.
His mother was speaking and hers was nodding. She guessed it was church politics, though she couldn't be sure. Suddenly his mother let out a roar of laughter. As she threw her head back and shook, a little drop of wine splatted on her mother’s dress.
Very gingerly, while she continued to nod and smile, her mother’s free hand dropped to her cotton dress. She folded the area around the stain and tried to flick it away.
“Who’s you favourite superhero?” he asked from the bottom of the slide.
She didn’t have one.
“I’m not sure,” she said and folded her hands on her lap.
He told her at length about video games she hadn’t heard of.
She cursed her fate and wondered why she must always be so tolerant.
It was as if she couldn’t help it.
Dusk was settling. She was thinking about a school project. The teacher had set a challenge: to think up a story about animals in a zoo.
The theme was churning in her mind. She would not be writing a pleasant story about an elephant escape or a monkey fight, like her classmates. Her story would be about a dull visit where nothing occurred. Perhaps she would take on the perspective of a caged animal.
Their mothers had separated. His was still shrieking and hers speaking conspiratorially to a balding man with a fresh face and pin-striped suit.
“Who’s your best friend?” he asked.
The questions trapped her. “Maybe Julia,” she said, picturing the short, pudgy girl with blotchy skin and a temper, whom nobody liked.
“What’s she like?” he asked.
“Funny,” she said. “And tall.”
“Why is she your best friend?” he asked.
A pulse of irritation gushed through her. How surprised he would be by the truth.
“Because nobody else likes her” she said.
He blinked.
She shrugged. The moment had passed.
Finally, their mothers were together again. They were collecting their handbags from the patio steps, where they had been abandoned in a tangled heap.
They hurried over. “My Gosh,” his mother exclaimed in a drawl that had always annoyed her. “Look how cute they are. I bet they’ve kissed.”
“Mum! You're embarrassing me” he said, with affectation he had learned from American films.
“She’s a beautiful little girl,” his mother said to hers.
“Oh yes,” said her mother, fumbling for the car keys and watching her daughter’s brilliant glare fade to relief. 

End of Guest Post

"Kate, welcome back"Carmilla 
Ferguson has a very interesting webpage where you can find information about her work and links to some of her writings.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Afternoon" by Desmond Hogan

"Afternoon" by Desmond Hogan

The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project

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

"We are of an ancient stock", my father used to say..We were here before St Patrick and we will be here when he's forgotten...Our secrets are the secrets of the universe...We are the sort that Joseph was when he fled with Mary".

When I first began to read Hogan, I sensed an understanding of why the Irish Travellers was central to grasping one his deeper themes.   Since first saying that I have read older Irish literary works such as John Synge's The Tinker's Wedding and Seamus O'Kelly's wonderful short story "The Can With the Diamond Notch" depicting the way mainstream people saw Travellers (called Tinkers in those days) as loud and boisterous and out of control.   If you think about it a bit, this is how the English of the time saw the Irish,  the Travellers were the stage Irishman of the Irish.   Part of my ability to see this comes from my reading in the work of Declan Kiberd and Edward Said.   I recently acquired an ebook of the complete poems and poetry of William Butler Yeats (some 2400 pages) and I scanned it for the term "Tinker".   It shows up 41 times.   I looked at some of the poems in which the word occurs and Tinkers are depicted as somehow symbols of freedom but also always as outsiders who behaviour is beyond the pale of good society.   Yeats and Synge romanticised the Travellers and pushed them into the trap the Irish were pushed into by the English.   There is no conception of the ancient lineage of the Travellers in much of the literature of the Irish literary renewal.   I think it is instructive to look at the treatment of Travellers in "Barnacles", centering on the life of an elderly Travellers woman now dying in a hospital to see that Hogan is trying to see and tell the truth about Travellers, not romanticise them.   There is the question I proposed earlier and still wonder about.   Why does the first person narrator in many of these stories, an autodidact with all sorts of obscure knowledge, choose to spend his time among overall very uneducated people who do not really accept him.    

There are thirty four stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories, as of today, I have posted on twenty four of them.   The more I read Hogan's stories, the more I see 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. As far as I know none of Hogan's work can be read online (He has no web page) but you can purchase an E-Book at a very fair price.  

"Barnacles" is the first story I have read by Hogan that relates to the conflicts in Northern Ireland.   The story begins by telling us something of the life history of the Travelling woman and the large number of children she had.   Some come to see her and some are scattered through the world.  One of her children was taken by Irish tourists when he was two years old, supposedly just for the summer.  She never saw him again.    When words gets out that she is dying her extended family comes to see her.   The life history of Eileen is just fascinating and beautifully relayed to us.   We learn more about Tinker culture than we have in the prior stories I have read.  In 1916 or so some viewed the Tinkers and the IRA as in league, in truth the tinkers cared for neither group but there role as scavengers of bomb sites gives us a lot to think about.   It was also suggested they loved the chaos just for the pure joy of it.   We learn of the old woman's memories of the famines, or maybe borrowed memories from her family.   

I love this story.  I really liked the ending.    There is so much in this story I know I am leaving out but I will come back to different approaches to his work as I proceed in my project.

Author Bio (from Lilliput Press)

Desmond Hogan was born in Ballinasloe, East Galway, in December 1950 and currently lives in south-west Ireland. He has published five novels: The Ikon Maker (1976), The Leaves on Grey (1980), A Curious Street (1984), A New Shirt (1986) and A Farewell to Prague (1995), as well as four books of stories: The Diamonds at the Bottom of the Sea (1979), Children of Lir (1981), The Mourning Thief (1987) and Lebanon Lodge (1988), published in the USA in 1989 under the title A Link with the River. His travel writings, The Edge of the City, appeared in 1993. In 1971 he won the Hennessy Award, and in 1977 the Rooney Prize for Literature. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1980 and was awarded a DAAD Fellowship in Berlin in 1991. In 1989 he was writer-in-residence at the University of Alabama, and in 1997 taught at the University of California, San Diego.

Larks' Eggs and Other Stories by Desmond Hogan can be purchased from Lilliput Press, a 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
The Reading Life

Germinal by Emile Zola

Germinal by Emile Zola (1885, 582 pages, translated by Havelock Ellis)

Emile Zola
 1840 to 1902

Prior to today I have posted on three of Emile Zola's novels and two short stories.    In order of my personal preference I have read Nana, The Belly of Paris and Therese Raquin.    Germinal is considered by many to be Zola's masterwork.  It is the thirteenth novel in his twenty cycle set of novels, Les Rougon-Macquart in which he attempts to set out the full of life in France in the 1880s.   Zola is considered one of the greatest realistic writers in the European tradition.  By realism one means that all people are terrible and life is horrible, over simplifying a trifle.   Zola was a very important influence on George Moore, who changed the direction of Irish fiction after reading Zola.   Zola through Moore turned the Irish away from the stories in the mode of Tales of an Irish R. M. to an attempt to write about the lives of ordinary people.   This probably would have happened anyway but this is how it happened.

Germinal is a an oppressive and I would have to say depressing novel with its unremitting focus on the lives of French coal miners and the misery caused by a strike.

The coal miners and their families have terrible lives.   There is very little pleasure in this book.   It is set in northern France in the 1860s.  The title refers to a month in the French Republican Calendar, in the spring.   The central character is a young man named Etienne.   He shows up looking for a job at the coal mines one day.   He befriends a veteran miner who gets him a job and finds him a place to stay.  (Wikipedia has a decent account of the plot if you need one for your homework).   

This is a great book though I would not say it is a pleasure to read it.   Zola relates the misery of the men and women working in the mines to the wealthy mine owners pursuit of status items and their vice.   There is a lot of sex in the novel also, I admit I never knew there were women working along side men in the save mines.  My translation is an old public domain one and I suspect it maybe slightly censored from the French original.   

Based on my limited experience with Zola, I would say personally first read Nana then Germinal.  I will read more of his work in 2013.   His full cycle of novels would be a great reading project.

Please share your experience with Zola with us.

Is he just too grim?   what should be my fifth Zola?

Mel u
The Reading Life

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Benito Cereno Herman Melville

Benito Cereno Herman Melville  (1855,  84 pages)

Herman Melville (1819 to 1891, New York City, USA) is most famous as the author of Moby Dick (1851).       Moby Dick is on every list of world's greatest novels and might be the only 19th century American novel that can stand  up next to the very best of European and English literature of the century.   Moby Dick, like Gulliver's Travels, is known about by many more people than have read it.   I first read it about 45 years ago, then I read it four years ago and I hope to read it again one of these days.   Since I began The Reading Life in July 2009, I have read only his classic must read short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener".  I loved it and I also love Moby Dick.   

Two factors motivated me to read Benito Cereno.   The first was the simple fact that I bought a remainder copy of the Oxford Classic edition of Billy Budd, Sailor and other selected Tales years ago which included it and secondly I was lead to read it by  the Melville read through at one of the book blogs that inspired me to start my own  blog, bibliographing.   (OK and I also liked the fact that it was not terribly long.)

Benito Cereno is a nautical story centering around the revolt of the people on a slave ship.   It is based on a true story.  The prose is not as thunderous as Moby Dick but that requires a bigger stage.   The moral or meaning of this story is a, I think, complex one.  Of course Melville is against slavery but there is much more to this work than that.  

I endorse this work to anyone who wants to expand their reading in Melville.

Mel u

"Dimmer" by Joy Williams

"Dimmer" by Joy Williams (1969, 33 pages with an introduction by Daniel Alarcon)

Joy Williams

I am enjoying reading the short stories in the just published Object Lessons:  The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story.   The editors of collection asked twenty-one contemporary masters of the short story, pretty much all Americans as are most of the story authors, to pick a story published in The Paris Review and write a brief account as to why they liked their pick.   The editors say the purpose of the collection is to show of the short story form to those who do not give it the attention it deserves.   In all I plan to post on six of the stories.  

Joy Williams (USA, 1944-graduate of University of Iowa creative writing program) has written two novels and three collections of short stories.   She has been nominated for The National American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.  She has taught creative writing at several major universities.

This story, like the others in this collection, cannot, as far as I know, be read online unless you subscribe to the review.   I will keep my post quite short and it will be more for me to recall it than for others,

"Dimmer" is about a mentally dysfunctional man named "Mal", a bit too close for comfort to my own name!   He is from Australia, in the outback type area.   His father dies and his mother abandons him as a young boy but with some charity from neighbors he is able to keep himself alive.    He gets into some trouble, impregnating a woman married to a war veteran and he ends up being sent to Los Angeles on a one way flight.   He spends some days in the airport, he cannot speak and then he is up being picked up by a woman that transports cars across country.   The fun in this story, and it really is a pleasure to read, is in the crazy capricious life of Mal.   I hope to read more Joy Williams one of these days.  

Mel u
The Reading Life

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"The Can with the Diamond Notch" by Seumas O'Kelly

"The Can with the Diamond Notch" by Seumas O'Kelly    (1917)

The Irish Quarter

Seumas O'Kelly 
1875 to 1918
Galway, Ireland

I have not yet been to Galway, Ireland but I do not think you would find another city of its size on the planet that has produced so many great writers, among them Seumas O'Kelly.   I have previously posted on his "The Weaver's Grave", "The Rector", and "The Wayside Burial" and his tremendously fun to read story about a cousin of the leprechaun, "The Shoemaker".   In his 1917 collection, Waysiders there are ten short stories.  I  have already posted on three  of the stories in Waysiders  and it is my plan now to read and post on all of them.  I do not know if any of his work is much read besides "The Weaver's Grave", included in William Trevor's Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories but I really enjoyed the story I read this morning and I think his work lets us see an older Ireland, maybe one that never quite existed.  I also want to post on this story because Tinkers  the old name for Irish Travellers, play a central part in the story.  I first got interested in Irish Travellers through reading some of the short stories of the great contemporary Galway writer, Desmond Hogan.   I also recently read "The Tinker's Wedding" by John Synge and I am starting to try to understand the part of tinkers in Irish literature.  Last week I acquired an ebook of the complete poetry and plays of W. B. Yeats and I scanned it for the word "Tinker".   It comes up 41 times.  I am now starting to see the work of Hogan through his use of Travellers as partially proposing an alternative non-centrifugal view of Irish history with travellers as iconographic figures in this history.   If no one has ever done it, an interesting book could be written about the role of Tinkers/Travellers in Irish Culture.    The highest number of Travellers are to be found in the Galway area.  

The stories of O'Kelly are all based on old Irish legends and yarns.    He is fully in the tradition of the Irish storyteller.   The central character of the story is Festus Clasby, a fine figure of a shop keeper.   Everybody from miles around comes to buy from this store, he extends long credit and he takes long profits in return.   It is a lot of fun to learn of the importance of the local shop owner to the rural people.   The story gets very exciting when a tinker comes in his shop offering to sell his a wonderful pot he has made, with a special diamond notch that he says he marks all his work with.  It is great fun to see the shop owner and the tinker bargain back and forth and we get a good sense of the joy the people in the story took in verbal proficiency.

Then the real fun of the story starts when a Tinker woman, the tinkers in the story are portrayed as loud and boisterous, maybe beyond the pale of proper behaviour, and says the pot is not the property of the man selling it but belongs to her brother.  Now things start to get crazy when a number of Travellers all come in the store and start arguing with Festus over the fair price for the pot and seemingly ready to fight each other. At the end of the story Festus finds a good bit of his inventory has disappeared along with the Travellers and his pot and the money he paid for it.   It seems the whole thing was a well practised flim-flam routine.

"The Can with the Diamond Notch"  is a really fun story.   William Trevor says that O'Kelly's work is a transition from the traditional Irish yarn to the modern short story.  

What are your favorite older Irish short stories?  

Mel u
The Reading Life

"Emmy Moore's Journal" by Jane Bowles

"Emmy Moore's Journal" by Jane Bowles (1973, 21 pages)

Jane Bowles
1917 to 1973

Jane Bowles, wife of Paul Bowles, was born in New York.  She published her only novel, Two Serious Ladies in 1943. She also wrote a play that was produced on Broadway, In The Summer House. She published  twenty short stories.   She moved to Tangiers with Paul Bowles in 1948.    While in Tangiers she is said to have had very intense relationships with a Moroccan woman and the famous torch singer Libby Holman.   She  was an alcoholic   Here is a quote from the book description of My Sister's Hand:  The Complete Works of Jane Bowles

Paul and Jane Bowles
"Though she wrote only one novella, one short play, and fewer than a dozen short stories over a roughly twenty-year span from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s, Jane Bowles has long been regarded by critics as one of the premier stylists of her generation. Enlivened at unexpected moments by sexual exploration, mysticism, and flashes of wit alternately dry and hilarious, her prose is spare and honed, her stories filled with subtly sly characterizations of men and, mostly, women, dissatisfied not so much with the downward spiral of their fortunes as with the hollowness of their neat little lives."

I confess I had never heard of her until I saw her name in the anthology, Object Lesson:  The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story.  When I saw that Linda Davis greatly admired her work I was very happy to be presented with my first opportunity to read her work.   After reading the introduction of Davis I would say I would love to have had the opportunity to take a class in the short story from her.

I really love "Emmy Moore's Journal".   It is a partially autobiographical story about a woman who wants to join her husband.   The story is told in the first person and the woman's observations transcend the merely amazing, some are very accurate some make little sense as we she her thin grip on reality.  She has odd attitudes about Turkish women as somehow very exotic and feminine.  How things change as I suspect most Americans, the woman refers to herself as an American, would not list Turkish women as especially exotic.  There is little I can say about this story that Davis has not already said much better.   There is a letter to her husband (named "Paul") that is a classic.   It also shows the orientalizing in the mind of Emma of Asian women.  Here is what she says about herself "I am so wily and feminine that I could live by your side for a lifetime and deceive you afresh each day".   Femininity is equated with deception and uses the power tactics of the weak against their masters.

There is much more in this wonderful story.  Sadly none of her work, as far as I could find, can be read online.  My thanks Linda Davis for picking it.   

If you have read Jane Bowles (or Paul, who I will post on soon as this story made me curious about him) please share your experiences with us.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Barnacle Geese" and "Chintz" by Desmond Hogan

The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project

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

There are thirty four stories in Lark's Eggs and Other Stories, as of today, I have posted on twenty three 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. As far as I know none of Hogan's work can be read online (He has no web page) but you can purchase an E-Book at a very fair price.  My remarks today will be brief as I am getting behind in my posting on the works I have read.  I will also include for the first time what I take to be a semi-official author biography of Hogan (It is taken from his publisher's web page)

Author Bio

Desmond Hogan was born in Ballinasloe, East Galway, in December 1950 and currently lives in south-west Ireland. He has published five novels: The Ikon Maker (1976), The Leaves on Grey (1980), A Curious Street (1984), A New Shirt (1986) and A Farewell to Prague (1995), as well as four books of stories: The Diamonds at the Bottom of the Sea (1979), Children of Lir (1981), The Mourning Thief (1987) and Lebanon Lodge (1988), published in the USA in 1989 under the title A Link with the River. His travel writings, The Edge of the City, appeared in 1993. In 1971 he won the Hennessy Award, and in 1977 the Rooney Prize for Literature. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1980 and was awarded a DAAD Fellowship in Berlin in 1991. In 1989 he was writer-in-residence at the University of Alabama, and in 1997 taught at the University of California, San Diego.

"Barnacle Geese" centers on a Traveller.   He arrives in Kerry in early winter just when the Barnacle Geese arrive.   We learn he always stops at a cafe and he swims in carnation-red underpants.   In his caravan there is a picture of the American actor Alan Ladd and a reproduction of Rubens' Prometheus Bound.   This story also makes use of cultural artifacts, talks of mental illness in a casual way as do other stories.   This is a great story.  I am cutting my post on this work way shorter than I should but I am getting behind in my posting (don't worry to anyone who reads these posts, I will go back to the long ones soon!

"Chintz" is about the experiences of an Irishman visiting Leningrad.   The story or the narrator kind of dates the work as the name of the city was changed back to "St. Petersburg" in 1991.   It was interesting to see the  way that feast names of Russian Orthodox church were used in this story, in a way similar artifacts are used in other stories.   The details in the story about the narrator's experiences in Russia are fascinating.   There is just a huge amount in and to like about this great work of art.

I think I will post on each of the remaining stories in this project one at a time and I will try to tie each post in with a different theme as I hope I am coming to more of an understanding of the work of Hogan.

I know I have not done any justice to these stories but I will be posting a lot more on Hogan.

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
The Reading Life

"Several Garlic Tales" by Donald Barthelme

"Several Garlic Tales" by Donald Barthelme (1966, 9 pages)

Donald Barthelme 
1931 to 1989 USA

Donald Barthelme was a very prolific very highly regarded short story writer with 100s of published works.   In addition to being a writer he was also a reporter, a curator of an art museum and worked as a visiting professor of creative writing at several universities.   I am currently reading some of the short stories in a brand new anthology Object Lessons:   The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story and I was excited to see a story by Barthelem in the collection.  

It is not terribly easy to see fully what is happening in this story.   It seems to be about a wealthy man, perhaps in the movie business, travelling the world in the company of his Japanese girlfriend.   As the story opens Amelia and Paul (I wonder why the Japanese girlfriend has been given a very English name-is it not her real name-is this story orientalizing her?  Her nickname is "Yum-Yum") are looking at some travel pics of Denmark (this was in the day when people saved their pictures in physical albums).   The point of this story, as most postmodern short fiction is in the twists, the language and the images.   I loved it when they went to see one of my favorite Greta Garbo movies, Queen Christina.  (question of the day-is Queen Christina camp?)   We wonder why Paul wanted Yum-Yum to wear white rubber pajamas.   Is the world a toy for Paul as is perhaps Yum-Yum.  

This is a very interesting story.   The language is magical and the images and scenes evoked are fascinating.

I hope to read more of the author's work one day.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Ten Stories from Flaubert" by Lydia Davis

"Ten Stories from Flaubert" by Lydia Davis  (2010, 10 pages)

Lydia Davis

"Later I heard that after this exhibition of savages, their manager abandoned them."

I have wanted to read a short story by Lydia Davis (1947, USA)  for sometime.  Davis is known for her short stories and her translations of  Madame Bovary and Swann's Way.   I was very glad to see one of her short stories included in Object Lessons-The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story.   All of the stories have previously been published in The Paris Review and each story is introduced by a short story writer who has also been published in The Paris Review.   "Ten Stories from Flaubert" is introduced by Ali Smith, author of numerous novels, plays and short stories.  

Davis is known for the extreme compression and precision of her short stories.   Many of her stories are just a few lines and some just a sentence.     Given that, a ten page short story by Davis is almost like a 100 page  work by most writers.  All of the stories in "Ten Stories from Flaubert" read as if they were translations from letters or journals by Flaubert, and in most of our cases including mine, how would one  know the difference.    I will reveal enough about the stories to give you a feel for them.  

"The Cook's Lesson" is that she does not know that France is no longer a kingdom but is now a republic even though there has been no king for five years.  She says the fact that there is no longer a king simply "does not interest her in the least-those were her words.    And I think of myself as an intelligent man!  But compared to her I am an imbecile."

"Pouchet's Wife" lets us in just a few sentences feel the terrible pain of a man whose beloved wife has passed.  He was a doctor and his wife, a pretty Englishwoman, helped draw him out and makes him seem more human.   The narrator says he has been told that he does not have much compassion for people, common complaint about Madame Bovary was that it looks at its characters almost like they were insects.

There is a story about a man who hates the tapeworm in his stomach so much he decides to kill it by killing himself.   There is a very interesting story about the fate of tribal people from a very primitive area brought to Paris for a show of some kind and then abandoned. 

"Ten Stories from Flaubert:" is a brilliant story and helped me understand Flaubert just a little better.   In fact this morning I completed my second reading of A Sentimental Education and will post on it soon.  A few of the short stories of Davis can be found online.   I see myself buying her collection of short stories once it is available as a Kindle.  

"I knew Flaubert, Turgenev and de Maupassant"

Mel u

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Funes, the Memorious" by Juan Luis Borges

"Funes, the Memorious" by Juan Luis Borges  (1968, 8 pages, translated by James Irby)

Juan Luis Borges (1899 to 1986-Argentina) is best known for his fables and short stories as well as his essays.   He is one of the dominant figures in Latin  American literature.   I was very happy to see that included in Object Lessons:  The Paris Review Presents Art of  the Short Story edited by Lorin and Sadie Stein, 2012, was a short story by Borges.   I have read his work before but it has been several decades.   Each of the stories in the collection has a brief introduction by a well established short story writer.  Borges' story is introduced by Aleksandar Hemon, author of three short story collections and The Lazarus Project, a 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.

Set in the middle of the 19th century in Buenos Aires, the story centers on a man with incredible mental capacities, a man who wants to know everything.    There are strong connections for many people, myself included, between a compulsive love (that is the wrong word but will let it go for now) for the reading life and a compulsion to know as much as you possibly can.  As illustrated in the story, these compulsions are at least as isolating as they are connecting.

As Hemnon says in his great introduction, the work of Borges "belongs to the tradition of literature with cosmic ambition:  the Bible, The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, that strive to convey complete universes, containing everything".   In order for this to work, human language has to be able to articulate all  knowledge.   The vision in this story and the other works in the tradition us that you cannot really conceptualize humanity without literature.

Funes, the central character in the novel cannot forget anything.  He can pull up the number of leaves on a tree he saw 25 years ago.   The story focuses on the attempt of the narrator of the story to tell of the life if Funes, a near impossible task as his very project transcends human limitation.  This is a beautiful fable.   It has a lot to tell us about the reading life.

Mel u
The Reading Life