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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Illuminations" by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne

"Illuminations" by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne  (2012, from The Shelter of Neighbors)

"Illuminations" - a work of magic by

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

The Shelter of Neighbors

Eilis Ni Dhuibhne is one of Ireland's highest regarded contemporary writers.   I have previously posted on two of her novels, Fox, Scarecrow, Swallow and The Dancers Dancing as well as a brilliant short story, "Trespass".   I recently acquired her latest collection of short stories The Shelter of Neighbors (2012).  Today I will post briefly on the a story from the collection, one I totally loved and am more than a bit mystified  almost stunned by.

"Illuminations" is set in an artists' retreat in a beautiful setting in the hills of the west coast of the United States.     It is told in the first person by a writer in residence there.  The view from her window is one of the beauty, almost out of a fairy tale.  It is a setting of perfect tranquility and calm.  They are in the midst of a forest of redwoods, pines and oak with abundant wildlife, even a rumored mountain lion, she can hear coyotes at night.  She is working on a novel.  In the afternoons she walked in the hills, at night she read.   The house used to be owned by a woman married to a famous biographer and it had a library with lots of biographies of writers.   She reads several of them and begins to wonder if being a successful writer requires a "stunning eccentricity".

There are two others in residence at the house.  One is a Chinese man who paints abstracts and the other is a German woman who composes very jarring musical works meant, she thinks,  to represent "alienation and disconnection".  The conversations between the artists are really interesting.  For sure you will wish you could be in residence there!   The Chinese man is a wonderful cook. The owner of the house brings in supplies for them but they are basically left alone.

I know I cannot convey why I like this story so much but I just loved it for what is not said, what we are left to figure out on our own and imagine.

The woman begins to go for walks in the beautiful forest.   There are homes in the hills, mostly of wealthy people who just use them for vacation homes.   She comes upon a house and she begins to talk to the woman there.   A strange and beautiful woman who seems way to young to have two grown children, one a man near forty.  Her daughter lives with her also.   The house is amazingly beautiful.   They invite her in.  She senses something may not be quite right here but she goes in.   The family in the house are just marvelous creations.   The son is a very well known musical composer who says he can create only at the house and the beautiful daughter, twenty maybe, who confuses the narrator when she learns she does not go to college or pursue any occupation.   The mother of the family invites her to come back for dinner and when she does it is the best food she has ever had.   She is captivated by the family.   She makes enquirers as to who they are and she gets some answers that raise more questions than anything else.   She is offered and invitation to stay overnight and shown the guest room.   It is as though they have seen into her mind and created the perfect room for her.   You keep sensing something terrible is going to happen to her.  The story brings back very old memories about why staying away from strange houses deep in the forest is a good idea. I think one of the reasons this story works so well is the sheer beauty of the language mirrors the beauty the narrator is presented in.   It as almost as if we cannot believe anything this beautiful can endure.   The ending is a complete mystery.

I loved this story.  It is very deep, I think.

Author Data

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne (1954, Dublin) is the author of eight novels, four in English and four in Irish.    She has a PdD from The National University of Ireland, focusing on the work of Chaucer as part of an oral tradition.    She has taught at the University College Dublin and was for many years a curator at The National library in Dublin.   She also teaches creative writing.   Her novel, The Dancers Dancing, was short listed for the 2000 Orange Prize.  

You can learn more about her work on her webpage 

There are thirteen stories in The Shelter oi Neighbors.   I also read and liked a lot "Taboo".   "Trespass" is included in the collection.   I have eight stories to go and am really looking forward to reading them.   I have no preset plans on how many stories I will post on but I am sure there will be more.  

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