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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Fleas" by Elizabeth Reapy

"Fleas" by Elizabeth Reapy (2012, 7 pages)

30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy with a foreword by John Walsh

The Irish Quarter

Elizabeth Reapy

"Me and Shane moved to Perth about two months back.   In Melbourne before that.  Pretty much taking caps and drinking goon all the time, until we puked or shat ourselves or scored women that were more wasted than us.  Waking up in random hostels in St Kilda or in Ozzy houses cramped with Irish immigrants to keep the rent down.   Young ones like ourselves.  Younger even.  Was turning out to be worse than the way we were back in Ireland."

There are thirty stories in 30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers. So far I have posted on eight of them.  (I totally endorse purchase of this very fairly priced collection and will provide a publisher's link at the end of this post.)   There is also a very interesting introduction  by the editor Elizabeth Reapy (I have posted on her very well done short story, "Statues") and a foreword  by John Walsh..   Agreeing with John Walsh, I think this book could well be a collector's item one day.  

Posting on collections of short stories that include the works of many different authors presents a big challenge, to me at least.    I do not personally care for reviews or posts on short story collections that simply have one or two lines on a few of the stories and then gush over the collection as a whole with standard book review quotes.  These could in fact easily be written without reading much of the collection and to me it is like going on about a forest without realizing it is made up of trees.   Because of the high quality of the stories and the collections ability to acquaint me with contemporary Irish short stories, I now plan to post individually on all of the stories in the collection.

Upon completion of this project, I will list my top five stories.

"Fleas" by Elizabeth Reapy, the editor of this great collection, lets us see what it like to be a young  Irish immigrant who moved to Australia to get away from a life that got off to a very bad start in Ireland.  The narrator and his mate Shane's life is one long string of heavy drinking binges, short term laboring jobs and transit hotels.   You can get a pretty good insight into their lives in these marvelous lines:

"Shane's mam bailed him out once with a grand but we blew that in a weekend with Thai whores and a two day session with Thai whores in a plastic Irish pub run by the biggest fucking scumbags you could ever expect to find in Northside Dublin".

Oscar Wilde, and I am sure Shane and the narrator would hate this comparison, said he did not really become Irish until he left Ireland and in a way this is what "Fleas" is also about.   The lads can make a lot more money in Australian as truck drivers than they can as day laborers in Ireland and they use the money to do the things that there life experience has taught them that a proper manly Irishman does when he has some money.   They live in an alcohol fueled world.   Once they get great  money making jobs as truck drivers but they flunk the drug test.   

Most of Irish people in their world seem on the run from the law in Ireland or to at least have nothing to go home to.  They get into lots of nefarious adventures and Reapy makes them all very real for us.   Sometimes they get homesick for old Ireland but I get the feeling they are not going home anytime real soon.  They have learned a trick about how to get a meal when all your money has gone for the drinks, drugs and whores.   Find a nice Irish girl in a rooming house and hang around her looking starving when she is cooking and she will feed them.   I loved this brilliant line:  "Something to do with the potato famine".   

I really liked it when they got a job working the mango harvest because there are huge Mango trees on the family property in the northern Philippines.   I am trying to image Shane and our narrator eating mangoes and laughing!   

Reapy has a great feel for the experience of the Irish in Australian, for good reason.   The description of the 12 hour drive across the outback was brilliant.   When I read this I kept in mind that pretty much any part in Ireland is at most four hours from another so this must be overwhelming to the lads.  The remarks of the narrators on Aborigines encapsulate hundreds of years of colonialism into a few words.

This is a fun story to read.   It is not for those who object to profane language.  

As I read it I wondered if young Irish people really use this much profanity.   Do they constantly use "fucking" as an adjective?   Or is this a marker of the lower class origins of the lads or their attempt to be macho?   Will they grow out of their life style and become boring regular people with jobs and families or will they die in stupid perhaps drinking driven ways?

"Fleas" is a great story about the dark side of the Irish immigrant experience.   I greatly enjoyed reading it.  

I am keeping a rough tab on how many of the thirty stories involve drinking and so far four of the eight have.   This is way above what a comparable number of Indian or Filipino short stories would have.   

Author Data

EM Reapy, 27, is an Irish writer travelling Australia. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her work has been published in Irish, British and American publications. She was shortlisted for 2009’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. She co-founded and edits (, has been selected for masterclasses, performances  and awards; including Tyrone Guthrie’s 2012 Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House Sydney and an Irish Arts Council Travel and Training Award to complete this. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is being produced by Barley Films. She will be featured at the prestigious Dromineer Literary Festival in October 2012. At present, she is redrafting a screenplay and working towards a collection of short stories. 

There is an extremely interesting interview with Reapy on writing4all

I greatly enjoyed her edifying essay "How I Write" on Tasmanian Travels

You can watch her reading from the story here

Anyone interesting in reading the best from emerging writers,  not just Irish, needs to read the quarterly issues of, edited by Reapy.

You can find more information on 30 Under Thirty:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers at the web page of Doire Press.  

Mel u

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