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, February 28, 2013

The Diary Of Samuel Pepys -A New Reading Life Project

The Diary of Samuel Pepys
1660 to 1689
University of California Edition
edited by 
Robert Latham and William Mathews
Nine Volumes
A Reading Life Project

About fifteen years ago I read the  complete University of California edition of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. I consider this one of the great reading experiences of my life. I found the collection at an extreme bargain price in a used book store and I still treasure it.  Normally I do not get sentimental over physical books but I really enjoy seeing the beautiful University of California edition on my shelves.  There is a  stamp in the first volume saying it is book number 6,721 in the Library of R. A. Peterson.    I wonder how the collection ended up being sold so cheaply.  One has to guess that R. A. Peterson passed and his or her heirs did not value the set.   Each volume bears the book count stamp and the bold signature of R. A. Peterson.   I will say to her or him, I am taking good care of your books and I love them also.   

  Samuel Pepys (1633 to 1703) lived through some of the most tumultuous times in English history.  He was there when the plague ravaged London and he records vividly his experiences of the great fire of London.  During the period of the diary he was clerk to the  to the Royal Navy board.   He was very good at this job and he also had access to all sorts of patronage which he took advantage of at every opportunity.  He married his beautiful wife when she was fifteen (normal at the time), he loved her dearly throughout their childless marriage but he pursued other women with great ardor.   Many were the wives and daughters of men who needed his help with Naval matters and he got in big trouble when his wife found out about his dalliance with a maid.   He also loved to read and was an avid collector of books.    The events in his diary are as interesting as those in any fiction.  For sometime I have wanted to read the diary for a second time.  .  The first time I read it I skipped most of  the copious notes as I had less time to read then  but they are tremendously edifying and this time I will read them all.   There is no better way to get an inside look at Restoration London than in these diaries.   

Parts of his diary was written in a code, only partially cracked is my understanding, he used this to describe many of the sexual encounters with women, including his wife.  They are  in the diary  but it is in fact not quite clear what Pepys did with these women.  He was not, unlike the other great English language diarist, James Boswell, an employer of prostitutes, he was more a sexual predator using his connections to bully women into some sort of sex.  

Shortly after reading the diary I went to London and one of the places I visited was the Samuel Pepys Museum.   I had a long talk with the curator, I think he was shocked I had read the diary, and got to see a lot of the artifacts of the period.    

I have decided if I am to read the diary one more time I might as well start now.   I will post on what strikes me, maybe a lot maybe just a bit.   Pepys loves to read and left a wonderful 3000 volume library you can see at Cambridge.  I recall he often talks of the books he bought.   If you want to learn about English history in the 17th century, this diary is a true treasure.   It is also fun to read, there is marital drama.   There is high drama also, political and domestic.  The sections where he is trying to get back in his wife's good graces after she finds out about him and a maid are totally exciting and as good any fiction.   Married will cringe over this section!  Pepys was very much a man about the town and off the world.  Pepys was not close to a morally perfect man but he was as smart as they come and amazing perceptive.

I have started volume one and in the first entry he buys a dozen bottles of port, goes to church and visits his faher in the company of his wife and records some office politics.

Mel u

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

"See you tomorrow"-
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916, 273 pages)

Irish Short Story Month starts tomorrow!

Event Resources-Links to lots of short stories, from classics to brand new works.  If you have any questions or suggestions or if you are an author and want to be featured, please feel free to email me.

Please consider joining us for the event.  All you need to do is complete a post on any Irish Short Story and let me know about it.  I will publicize your post and keep a master list. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. 

Consider posting on your favorite story from The Dubliners for Irish Short Story Month-March 1 to 31

"I THINK I almost said ‘Thank God’ when Joyce died. There must have been young men who said ‘Thank God’ when Byron died, and I can think of no other writer, unless perhaps Rousseau, who wielded such an influence; who was so much the pool of Narcissus to his generation, as Cyril Connolly put it."-Frank O'Connor

"Do you know what Ireland is?  asked Stephen with cold violence.  Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow"

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce  is his first novel.  It is considered partially autobiographical.  I find posting on it very intimidating.  It is an essential must read book for anyone into Irish literature and in fact the novel as an art form.

It follows the development and intellectual awaking of Stephen Daedalus  a young Irishman.  We see him begin to strain against his Catholic roots.  I first read this book maybe 40 years or so ago.  I am glad I have now read it for a second time.  The prose is amazing,  the theological, artistic and philosophical arguments go to the core of early 20th century culture.

Declan Kiberd in Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation says one of the very basic themes of Irish literature is the weak or absent father and he deals extensively with this theme in Joyce.  I have begun lately doing word counts on some of the works I read.  Here are some results from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  

Father -195 times

Mother  77

God  228 times

Love 89

Death 41

Church 40

Priest  98

Ireland  26

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Elizabeth Bowen and Irish Short Story Month-News About a Read Along

Elizabeth Bowen and Irish Short Story Month

Irish Short Story Month will be from March 1 to March 31-please consider participating-you can e-mail me   should you have any questions or suggestions.

The main purpose of this post is to let all of my readers know that Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat is hosting in March a read-a-long of Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Heat of the Day.   The novel is set in London during World War II.   Ireland was neutral during the war but Elizabeth Bowen (1899 to 1973-28 Books) was strongly loyal to England.   She spent the war living in London and worked as an air-raid warden, walking the streets getting people into shelters and making sure black out rules were observed.    This put her in harms way as she had to be among the very last to take shelter.  Many air raid warders lost their lives saving others.   Bowen said after the war that she never felt more alive than she did during the Blitz in London. She acknowledged, and did many others, that she felt a sense of liberation by the eminence of death.  Caroline will also be reading Victoria Glendinning's excellent biography of Bowen.   Bowen had a very exciting and varied life, not at all like the one that the pictures of her on the internet might suggest.  She delighted in being the "wild Irish girl" in London but back at home in Bowen's Court (her family was given land by Cromwell) she was very Anglo-Irish, the lady of the manor and most of her Irish contacts were servants.   Caroline's blog is one of the best book blogs and I have been following it for a long time.

One of the most worth buying short story collections I am aware of is The Collected Short Stories of Elizabeth Bowen.  Any of the short stories in here (or a secondary work on her) would be perfect for Irish Short Story Month.   Many consider her World War II short stories her very best work.   Another Mini-project one could do is to post on the short stories by Bowen set in Ireland.  Most of her stories are set in England or have no clear for sure location.  Declan Kiberd in Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation talks about Bowen's relationship to Ireland and how it changed based on where she was.   Bowen lived life to the full, she loved parties, drank a good bit, entertained lavishly,  smoked, and even though in a long term marriage to a very decent man who loved her, had a number of short and long term affairs which she made little effort to hide.   It is a shame the only pictures one can find of her make her appear to be a sternly prim school mistress who would be appalled at the idea of any non-Victorian behavior.   Kiberd says Bowen has six short stories set in Ireland but he does not list them.  I have been only able to find three of them but I am sure he is right.

The link to sign up for Caroline's Read A Long-part of the year long Literature and War Event, is here.

Any post on an Elizabeth Bowen short story is very welcome for Irish Short Story Month.

Mel u

"Newlywed" by Banana Yoshimoto - Project 196 Japan

"Newlywed" by Banana Yoshimoto - Project 196 Japan

Project 196
Banana Yoshimoto
29 of 196

Project 196 is my attempt to read and post on a short story by an author from each of the 196 countries of the world.  So far I have posted on stories from 29 countries.  I am discovering a lot of new to me writers, including some I for sure want to read more of, and learning more about the short story as a factor in differing literary cultures.  Japanese fiction is one of my core interests.

Banana Yoshimoto (1964, Tokyo) is one of my favorite contemporary writers.    I have her on my read everything that has been translated list.   I think either her Kitchen (her most popular work among book bloggers) or Goodbye Tsugumi (my personal favorite) would be a good first Japanese novel.   (There is more information on her in my prior posts on her work.)

"Newlywed" is a really fun to read paranormal story with strong elements of magic realism.   It is told in the first person by a newly married man. It is about a very strange experience he had writing the train in Tokyo.

He is on his way home from a late night drinking session which has left him pretty intoxicated when a very ragged old man gets on the train and sits near him.  The train is not crowed and the three other people in the car move to another car but he stays in the car with  the man.   He can barely stand the smell of the man and is totally shocked when the man tells him he knows why he does not want to go home.   The old man appears to know details about his domestic life with his wife.   Then he looks back over at him and the old man has vanished and in his place is a very beautiful woman.    At first he thinks he is hallucinating because of his drinking.  He begins an intimate conversation with the woman.   The question then becomes what is she?  It appears she is a spirit of a dead woman who spends her time riding in the train talking to strangers.

The plot sounds light but is really well done and makes you think a lot about who the woman could be.   Or the old man.  Maybe the entity takes the shape or persona best for the person they are speaking with.

I read this story in The Penquin Book of International Women's Stories.  It was translated by Megan Backus.

This will be my last project 196 post until April.  March will be devoted to Irish Short Stories.  I have decided the very last short story I post on for Project 196 (which will stay open until 2017) will be an Irish short story.

Mel ulm

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Irish Short Story Month March 1 to March 31

Year III
March 1 to March 31

Event Resources-Links to lots of short stories, from classics to brand new works.  Please consider joining us for the event.  All you need to do is complete a post on any Irish Short Story and let me know about it.  I will publicize your post and keep a master list. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

There is no sign up form, no Mr. Linky.   Just let me know by emailing me or leaving a comment anywhere on my blog letting me know of your participation.   Guest posts are very welcome, just contact me about your plans.  

This is my month-Carmilla

My intention is to make it as easy as possible to participate.  You can also post on a biography of an Irish writer, a history of the famine or pretty much any topic broadly related to the Irish short story.   

Am I a shape shifter, maybe-
What is so great about Irish  writers??

Carmilla, don't you
mean this is our month?
Here are some of the accomplishments of Irish writers who had short stories as part of their repartee.   Bram Stoker created the vampire craze, with some help from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, that still has its teeth in the throat of the world.  Samuel Beckett was the most important playwright since Shakespeare.   James Joyce revolutionized the literary world with Ulysses.  Jonathan Swift wrote the world's greatest satire.  William Butler Yeats well might be the greatest poet who ever lived.   In this century four Irish writers have won the Nobel Prize, four the Man Booker Prize.   Ireland's literary output in terms of quality  at least equals that of England and the United States combined.  There are fifty, that I know of, Irish short story writers that would be national treasures in any other country that are just another writer in Ireland.   The literary form the Irish most dominate is the short story.   

I only grace R. L once or
twice a year with my presence-
Aeedem-a priestess of Newgrange
What will happen during the event?

One of my goals this year is to read and post on a lot of new to me Irish writers.   Another of my goals is to support as I can contemporary writers of short stories from Ireland, especially emerging writers.   I will be posting  some Q and A sessions with Irish writers which, I think, will help us understand from the inside what it is to be a writer, especially one from Ireland.  I will be posting a lot during the event.   Maybe as many as 150 posts plus guests posts so we might go over the 120 posts count.   I have already written 80 posts for the event.   

Some of my posts will attempt to go deeper into things than others.  it partially depends on my state of mind when I write it and also on how the story I read impacts me.  I resist the term "book reviewer" and do not like to be called that!   I read things and I write posts on them.   

If you are an Irish writer and want me to feature your work, please contact me.   I am also very willing to post or repost short stories by Irish authors, with them retaining full ownership of their works.  

My objective is to end the month knowing more about the Irish short  story than I do at
the start.   My co-hosts will be along for the ride.   

Mel u

"Unseen Things" by Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj - A Project 196 Short Story from Mongolia

"Unseen Things" by Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj (1931, 5 pages)

Project 196
Dashdorijiin Natsagdorj
28 of 196 Countries

Project 196 is my attempt to read and post on a short story by an author from each of the 196 countries of the world.  So far I have posted on stories from 28 countries.  I am discovering a lot of new to me writers, including some I for sure want to read more of, and learning more about the short story as a factor in differing literary cultures.

"Unseen Things" by Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj is my first exposure to work by a Mongolian writer.  My guess is outside of Genghis Khan very few people could name a Mongolian personage of note.  I know for sure I could not until I was edified  by one of my readers from Mongolia.  

One of the wonderful benefits of having run my blog for a fairly long time now is that I have a  network of people who know a lot more than I do that I can draw on for advise on all sorts of literary topics.   One of the long time readers of my blog is, I think, the only book blogger in Mongolia.  The blog is in Russian which I do not read and Google translate cannot handle it very well so I am not able to read the posts on the blog (I will leave a link to it and to where you can read the story at the close of the post).  One time the blog owner left a comment on a post I wrote so I answered them with a request for names of the highest regarded Mongolian short story writers.  They responded that there were lots of great writers but most write in either Russian or Mongolian and few are translated.   They did provide me with the name of the first modern short story writer from Mongolia, Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj (1906 to 1937) and a link to some of his stories in English.    A bit of research opened up the world of Mongolia in the 1930s to me.   It was time of transition from a purely agrarian and animal herding society ruled by tribal khans to a communist society. During the transition period there was a long period of tremendous turmoil in which there was little law and order and bands of marauding thieves  and killers masquerading as political activists.   

The story is told in the first person by a young man who was looking forward to working as herder along side a woman he shyly admired.   He sees approaching a group of men.   They are heavily armed and some are dressed as if they were Buddhist monks.   They capture and tie him up and demand to know his political loyalties.  He is a simple person and really is just trying to survive.  He sees the woman he likes approaching and he warns her to ride away as fast as she can but the men capture her also.   They talk among themselves whether or not they should just kill them.   They decide to take them to their base camp and they have a lot of other prisoners there, all of whom fear they will be executed.  Telescoping a bit, the prisoners leap for joy when they see the People's Army (Communists) approaching them and their captives flea in terror.

"Unseen Things" by Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj  was a story written with a political purpose, to praise the Communists.   To do otherwise would have been very dangerous.  It is for sure worth reading for those who want to expand their range of reading beyond the normal and it is an excellent miniature history lesson.  The story I read was clearly translated by someone whose first language was not English and who was probably taught English by someone other than a native speaker but it does give us access to a wonderful look at the past.  

Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj   is considered one the leading Mongolian writers.  He began his writing career at age 11 working for the military.  Literate people were very scarce at that time.  He founded the Mongolian Writers Union and wrote short stories, novels, plays and lots of journalism.   He lived for a few years in France and Germany.  He was place in prison for a short while in Mongolia when his views were considered not in accord with party ideology but he was soon released.  He dies of natural causes at 37.  

Here is some very interesting family history

. Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj has a long title - Secretary of the Political Bureau, Member of Government, Ambassador – in addition to being the founder of Mongolia’s modern literature. Born in 1906, Natsagdorj lived for just 31 years.
”From 1930, he was troubled by leftist ideologies and was arrested and jailed under the pretext of celebrating the New Year of 1932,” says the biographical section of a book of his selected writings published in 1961. He was released in 1932, but the worst was yet to come. In 1935, “his wife was sent back to Leningrad with their daughter Ananda Shri,” 
Nine Chistyakova and Natsagdorj had known each other since Natsagdorj was a student in the Military Academy at Leningrad. They married after he was released from jail.
”His wife and daughter went from Ulaanbaatar by ox cart on Altanbulag Road to the border of the Soviet Union, and from there went by train,” told Dr. L. Dashnyam, a man who helped Natsagdorj’s daughter, Ms. Shri, come back to Mongolia to live out the rest of her life. But the reason they left is still unclear. “They could have been sent by the government of Mongolia, or Ms. Chistyakova could have herself decided to leave the country because of anti-Russian sentiments in the country.”
Natsagdorj wrote the short story entitled Dark Rock in 1930, which talks about lost souls in love. The story seems a prediction of his family’s separation. Natsagdorj died in 1937, two years after his family left the country.
Coincidentally, or due to fate, a similar reason brought their daughter back to Mongolia in 1992. She had spent most of her life in Tallinn, Estonia. It was another tangle of history, during the political reforms fo Estonia, when Estonia refused to be part of the Soviet Union after Gorbachev’s perestroika, that brought her back.
First, she wanted to go back to St. Petersburg to her mother and younger sister, but life was not easy there, either. Then she remembered that she was originally from Mongolia. “She did not know how to come back, and just opened a telephone directory. She landed on the page of the Mongolian Consulate by complete coincidence. That decided it,” Dashnyam, her friend, whom she called ‘brother’ and ‘father’, stated. The government of Mongolia supported her with a flat and a monthly pension.
Ananda grew up not knowing about where she came from because her mother did not like to talk about Mongolia; she just knew that she was different from other Russian children. In her twenties, Mongolian writers and students in the Soviet Union started to visit her with many presents and paid extraordinary respects to her. From that time on, she began to realise that her father was a great Mongolian writer. But still, it was hard to learn about him because the translated works of Natsagdorj into Russian were poor, affected with Communist ideology.

Here is a link to the book blog whose editor helped me expand my reading life to include short stories from Mongolia.  I give them my great thanks both for this and for honoring me by following my blog.   

Once and a while they post an article in English or one Google translate can handle. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry (2006, 325 pages)

This book is the reason I started The Reading Life

Irish Short Story Month (March 1 to March 31) starts soon.  Please consider participating 

Event Resources-Links to lots of short stories, from classics to brand new works. Please consider joining us for the event.  All you need to do is complete a post on any Irish Short Story and let me know about it.  I will publicize your post and keep a master list. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. 

Movie Image
In June 2009 I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry.   I totally loved the book, except for the ending which I really disliked.   I wanted to see what other people thought about the book so of course I Goggled it.   This was how I entered the international book blog world.  I found a very good post on the book on (which sadly no longer is online).  I entered a lengthy and for me very fruitful series of comments on the book there.   The Elegance of the Hedgehog centers on Renee, a 53 year old concierge at an apartment building in Paris, occupied by eight very rich families.   Renee is an incredibly cultured autodidact who has been a compulsive reader all her life, and not romance novels.  She reads Tolstoy and Husserl.  She thinks the people who live in the apartment complex will not accept her if they know she has raised her self to such a highly cultured level so she does the best she can to live up to the rich people's image (in her mind) of what a concierge should be like.   She even buys a TV just so she can keep it on all day as she figures that is what the residents will expect her to do.  In a strange way I identified with Renee.  I have always read in isolation, as a child I was made somehow to feel odd because of this.

Paloma-from the movie

Because of my enjoyment of reading the various book blog posts, I decided to try to start my own book blog.  I was going to focus on books about people who lead reading centered lives.   Some of the greatest books of all times have been devoted to this theme, starting with Don Quixote, which has a good claim to being the most influential novel of all time, then we have what many say is the perfect novel, Madame Bovary about a woman made unsatisfied with her life my reading romance novels (in a similar vein to Anna Karenina) on up to a long list of more recent works.  I assembled a list of fifty novels on this theme.   I started my blog and The Elegance of the Hedgehog was one of the very first books I posted on.  Soon I began to drift away from a strict focus on books about those in the reading life but in the back of my mind it is still the core theme of my blog.

Movie Image
I reread The Elegance of the Hedgehog (OK you got to love the title!) over the last few days.  I liked it even more than I did the first time.   I knew what was going to happen in the end, it is shocking and totally sad.  I do not at all like the ending as an event in the life of Madame Renne (as she was called), a character I like and identify with.  On first reading I thought the ending was just a way for Barberry to get the book completed but now I think I see the point of it.  There is so much in this book I will just say I am among the 100s of 1000s of people who love it.

My first post on it is here.   I was just learning how to write a blog post then so if you read it don't be to harsh!   I hope to reread this book in late 2014.

I also want to complement Europa Editions for the very high quality product.  If publishers want the physical book to survive, and I am an E-reader, they need to have quality products like those of Europa.

The book was translated by Alison Anderson.

I also read and enjoyed her first novel, Gourmet Rhapsody

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"The Semiramis Bar" by Colette

"The Semiramis Bar" by Colette  (1935, 5 pages)

A Reading Life Project
The Collected Stories of Colette

The Collected Stories of Colette edited and selected by Robert Phelps (1989, 606 pages)

"It's absurd to divide people into good or bad,  people are either charming or tedious"  from Lady Windemere's Fan
It was just a question of time until Colette (1873-to 1954, Paris, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) became part of my reading life.      I would have read her sooner but I do not read French and  translations of her work are not in the public domain.   I now own a copy of  The Collected Stories of Colette edited and selected by Robert Phelps which contains 100 of her short stories.  

I appreciate the work in assembling and translating 100 short stories.    The Collected Stories of Colette is a physically a beautiful book with a generous size type face.   I do not like the way the book is organized.   Phelps  has divided it up into sections based on what the stories are about.   I think  readers would be better served if the stories were in publication order, with the date of original publication in a note on page one of the story.   There are no dates of publication given on most of these stories.   The introduction tells us little or nothing of value about Colette, it does not even tell us when she was born or died.    I see myself doing at least 15 posts on Colette over the next few months and I will post  a bit on her life, art and cultural important in subsequent posts.    In addition to her huge literary output she heroically sheltered Jews from the Nazis in Paris during WWII, received a state funeral upon her death and is an iconic GLBT figure.  

"The Semiramis Bar" is a fascinating look at what would now be called a Gay bar in Paris in the 1930s.  It is really a work of  great talent.   Colette brilliantly starts the story by telling us of the owner, a strange woman who gives away food too those in need and charges absurdly high prizes to richer customers.   Colette's depiction of the clientele of the bar is just totally wonderful.  Maybe it is wrong or projecting the 21th century into this story to say it is about a Gay bar.  Maybe we should fall back on an older word and see it as a bar for those in the demimonde world of Parisian night life.   Almost by definition this included gay men and women but there are many other creatures of the Parisian night world that fall in this category.  I see Hart Crane and Ruffington Bousweau as clients when in Paris and I can visualize Jean Rhys there as well.  Prince Felix Youssovpov is often seen there after midnight.

"I know where I will go next time I
am in Paris"  -Carmilla
"The Semiramis Bar" is a very sophisticated story, a flawless work of art.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Small Inheritance by Pat Jourdan

A Small Inheritance by Pat Jourdan  (2012)

A Small Inheritance by Pat Jourdan begins in England and ends in Ireland.  Kitty was born and raised in the loyalist  Ireland but moved to England for better opportunities and because she just wanted a change in her life. As the novel opens, Kitty's luck seems to be running out, her husband tells her he has a serious girl friend (leading her to ask "you mean there were others") and he is moving out.  Kitty quits her office job and moves to a flat above a laundromat where she has a part time job.   Kitty wants to retreat from the world, begin a new life.  "A job in a launderette, with flat above. It was a type of secret life. No one would look for her here and nothing would happen. It was a reverse way of beginning a new life, like a hermit crab backing into its shell."

Suddenly she gets a letter from a solicitor saying she is the co-inheritor of a house with land in rural Ireland as named in  the will of Ursula Brennan, of whom she has never heard.  She is of course mystified  but she basically has nothing to keep her in England so it is off to Ireland and a new way of life.  She does not tell anybody she knows about this she just leaves for Ireland, wanting to start a totally new life there.   By this time I really liked the character of Kitty and I wanted to see how this would work out for her.  A mysterious inheritance is found in many novels and often leads to undreamed of changes and adventures and that is just what happens to Kitty.  Kitty grew up in Ireland but left for England and more opportunity as soon as she could.  These lines from her mother sum up much of the sadness and underlying bitterness of the Irish emigrant experience:

"“People go over to England,” her mother said years ago. “It’s waste of a stamp, they change addresses like wildfire over there. I’m not going to bother. He’s never really been part of the family. He appeared out of nowhere, from the North, you’ll never find out about him.. No use whatever. Plus, you don’t know what he’s been up to over there. We won’t be told, they get up to all sorts.”

The depiction of her arrival on the property in Ireland and her meeting with her co-inheritor are just brilliant.  Her co-owner is odd on top of odd, a confirmed old bachelor who soon begins to feel people will spread scandal about him when Kitty moves in the property.  We soon find out there is more to him than meets the eye.   There is also an interesting sub-plot about a returning from Nigeria cousin.

The plot action of the novel is about Kitty and the people she gets involved with in Ireland.   She has some interesting adventures, skirts some legal problems and is not above a bit of a romance.  I think what this novel is really about is the corruption of Ireland brought about by the rise and then sudden fall of the period of economic high commonly called the Celtic Tiger.   It is about turning Ireland somehow into a travesty of itself as an amusement parlor for tourists or turning the Irish into tourists into their own country.

The novel is also about Kitty trying to come to terms with her Irish heritage.   These lines explain part of the import of this to the novel:

"British statesmen have an incurable propensity for playing the fool in everything that affects Ireland. By a piece of monumental stupidity the cabinet has converted Dr Mannix into an Irish national hero. His exclusion will of course be keenly resented by the Catholic Hierarchy in Ireland. The stew of items threw up details of how the country was being pulled in all directions at once. Independence that had been ratified in January 1919 had to wait until December 1922 to be recognized  Kitty was learning more about history here and now from these yellowing papers than all the schoolteachers or lecturers with their planned lessons."
I have lately begun to do word searches in the books that strongly interest me, as does A Small Inheritance.  I am not sure what this means but I think we can see something of the nature of a literary work through this method.  Here are some results for A Small Inheritance.

Ireland-22 mentions
Love -32
Mother 25
Father 62
Death 22
Home 57

The novel contains many wonderful lovingly done descriptions of the natural beauty of Ireland.

There are some exciting plot developments, some that will worry you a bit and one at the end I really thought was funny and sad at the same time.   Lots of things happen and I do not want to spoil them for you. This novel will keep you very interested,I am sure.

I greatly enjoyed A Small Inheritance.  The characters are very well done and I was very interested in Kitty.   The novel does have a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it and I will declare that to be quite a good thing!

Author Bio  

Pat Jourdan grew up in Liverpool and has lived in Ireland for several years. Trained as a painter at Liverpool College of Art, she has had several exhibitions in both countries. Her paintings feature on the covers of her books, as well as those of Orbis, Crannog and Microbe. In 2000 an exhibition of poetry and paintings, The Life Class, was held at the Davis Gallery, Capel St. Dublin.

Pat's latest book, Citizeness is a collection of poems that begins with Madame Defarge sitting knitting and continues with protest movements from there onwards. We cover the movements of troops through Shannon Airport while an aid worker drinks her coffee and end with a rendition plane drifting over an exclusive London flat. As you read tomorrow's papers,if you want to be "On the Run with the Mad Idealists," this is the collection you need to take with you. You can buy Citizeness via the online shopping facility below.
  • Finding Out, is set in an Irish seaside town. A group of outsiders think that learning the language will make a difference - and it does. They become increasingly puzzled and suspicious of each other as political changes surround them. Local people - Matt the Busker, Liam the entrepreneur,Mrs McLoughlin the embroidery specialist, carry on as normal. Each of the newcomers has a secret to keep and only a year to spend before leaving. You can buy Finding Out by clicking on the link on the right.
  • Rainy Pavements is a collection of short stories published in March 2008. An Easter-egg factory goes on strike, a beautiful evening turns murderous, a couple teeter on separation - surfaces are broken and routine disappears. You can buy Rainy Pavements by clicking on the link on the right.
  • A collection of poetry, The Cast-Iron Shore is available from, the Liverpool publishers. Price £4 plus postage, ISBN 978-0-9555754-9-5.
  • Winner of the Veterans Awareness Prize, 2007 Norwich for the poem That Far Away Look.
  • Working as tutor for the Spring Online poetry course of the University of the Third Age, 2009.
  • Pat Jourdan won second prize in the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award 2006.
  • Average Sunday Afternoon(Poetry Monthly Press,, price £5.50. ISBN 1-905126-29-8) a collection of short stories features people who break rules and test the boundaries of habit, faith, or even television. Humour flits through the unsettling events, from an invasion by cows, crime in Dublin, death in a dustbin, to village legends and the everyday visions of a mad girl.
  • Pat Jourdan was voted the best female poet of 2004 by Purple Patch Magazine, with her collection Turpentine being chosen as one of the best individual collections. She is also mentioned in Ian McEwan's Saturday as a 'little-known but gifted poet of the Liverpool School...'.
  • Turpentine, a collection of poems (Motet Press 2004, price £6.99, ISBN 0-9542399-1-1), with cover painting by the author.
  • The Bedsit , a new edition from Motet Press 2002, illustrated endpapers.
You can learn more about her work on her webpage.

You can purchase a Kindle or paperback  edition of A Small Inheritance through Amazon

Mel u

"Players" by Desmond Hogan

"Players" by Desmond Hogan (2006, 22 pages)

Cohosted by Shauna Gilligan of
Happiness Comes From Nowhere.

"The dandy’s craving for oblivion is “not a resignation but a heroic passion”, in fact the only form of heroism still practicable in the absence of a courtly backdrop. A hero thus becomes someone who knows, and says, and lives the truth that traditional heroism is no longer possible."  Daniel Kiberd

So far I have read and posted on thirty of the thirty six short stories in Larks' Eggs and Other Stories by Desmond Hogan as well as a story from a recent issue of The Stinging Fly, Ireland's premier literary journal.   I am firmly convinced now that these stories are world class cultural treasures of the highest order.   I am approaching his work using a literary concept of the long ago, as found objects.  In most cases I am treating the short stories individually but I have no hesitation now to generalize about the stories as I did find them all together.   Hogan has written a large number of short stories and hopefully will write many more.  I have as of now access to only the thirty-six in Larks' Eggs and Other Stories, the one in The Stinging Fly and two additional stories in other anthologies I own.

In a post on Juan Luis Borges I said I saw him  as belonging  to  the tradition of literature with cosmic ambition:  the Bible, The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, that strive to convey complete universes, containing everything.  I think it is useful to see Hogan in this same tradition with the qualification that he is trying to convey the complete world of the inhabitants of his stories, their history, their culture, their way of being in the world.  He is also, I think, recreating mythic structures among the debris and detritus of the times of his stories.   I think for sure that is part, though far from all, what is behind the many references to Irish Travelers and Gypsies in his stories.    In my posts on the remaining six stories in the collection (I did not post on the stories in order) I will not really attempt to convey the plot action, even though the events in "Players" are quite fascinating but will instead try to look at one particular think that strikes me in a story.  I also think that the stories of Hogan are very inter-textual, they reverberate off the walls of the literary culture of the world.   

Today I want to talk about the concept of the dandy as detailed in Declan Kiberd's great book, Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation as set out in his chapter "Elizabeth Bowen:   The Dandy in Revolt".  Susan Sontag talks a bit about concept of the Dandy, in her land mark essay "Notes on Camp" and I think that if this is understood correctly it helps us understand why a number of the narrators in these stories are gay.  These will help us understand two of the "big questions" readers might have on the stories:   why so many references to Irish travelers and why so much gay sex.   If  you look in detail, there are more gay male narrators in the stories that center on travelers than the other stories.   This allows us to see into the structure of the stories without stooping to biographical analyses of an author of whom we know nothing, which is what it means to treat the stories as found objects.  I know it is more fashionable or common place to treat stories as social commentaries or treat them as political documents but to go deeper as the stories of Hogan demand, we must move away from this. 

I will first explain what Kiberd means when he talks about the tragedy of the dandy.  This is also directly related to all of the seeming only cultural references to thinks not taught in school and the narrator's conversations with young Traveler men about arcane historical matters in which they have no interest and which we can only speculate as to whether or not the narrator knows he is talking to no one.  I realize many may not know what I am talking about at this point (or perhaps I am like the narrator talking to no one who is listening) but I  will proceed on in the hopes some will be interested.  (There is world wide interest in the stories of Hogan-I base this by the visitors that come to my blog drawn by the Hogan posts, not just in Ireland.) 

The best way to explain the concept of the Dandy is to quote a bit from Kiberd.

To the cynicism of the modern undergraduate, he would infinitely prefer the desperate composure of the dandy...Traditionally, the dandy has been the stuff of comedy, especially in the brilliant Anglo-Irish example of Oscar Wilde..the .dandy’s perennial problem: how to maintain an aristocratic hauteur and decorum in the absence of any available court at which to rehearse and play out such gestures...The dandy’s craving for oblivion is “not a resignation but a heroic passion”, in fact the only form of heroism still practicable in the absence of a courtly backdrop. A hero thus becomes someone who knows, and says, and lives the truth that traditional heroism is no longer possible.

Kiberd brilliantly invokes Walter Benjamin's concept of the dandy as a hero without work:

Nobody at Danielstown, least of all Mr. Montmorency, is capable of answering that. When asked what the British soldiers are dying for, he insists that “our side is no side” – “rather scared, rather isolated, not expressing anything except tenacity to something that isn’t there – that never was there. And deprived of heroism by this wet kind of smother of commiseration”. Nothing is left to such a man but beautiful manners and a perfect stylization of every gesture, for here indeed is Walter Benjamin’s essential dandy, “a Hercules with no work”.

From  Walter Benjamin:

nonchalance is combined with the utmost exertion of energy . . . There is a special constellation in which greatness and indolence meet in human beings too . . . But the high seas beckon to him in vain, for his life is under an ill star. Modernism turns out to be his doom. The hero was not provided for in it; it has no use for his type. It makes him fast in the secure harbour forever and abandons him to everlasting idleness. In this, his last embodiment, the hero appears as a dandy .

it is the dandy’s tragedy to be able to play every part except his or her own, to become a martyr to performance.

In "Players" a traveling group of Shakespearean actors come once a year to a small Irish town.   There behavior is unconventional but that is accepted as they are actor.  I should note I am not trying to "prove I am right".  I am not a scholar or an academic.  This is not meant as a claim of modesty it just explains in part why I feel I can just assert things and if others see my point great and if someone wants to respond all the more wonderful it just means I do not plans to quote a lot of Hogan to prove my point.  (It is there, I think, in my prior posts.) Now think back to the prominent figure in the Hogan corpus, that of the narrator of a story who lives with or frequents the haunts of Irish travelers, he also may, and is often gay.  I think this narrator is for sure a kind of dandy and once we understand what is in the quotes I made use of we are a good way into understanding these stories.   Much of  the meaning of Hogan's narrators and the wanderings in his stories and the arcane historical data is made partially clear in this last quote I will make use of from Kiberd.   It firmly located the stories at the heart of the Irish literary experience and also illustrates Shauna Gilligan's very illuminating thesis that the one of the core themes of the stories of Hogan is homelessness, real and metaphysical.

Yet, in that very disavowal of a native background or identity, she becomes a voice for all those uprooted, dispossessed Irish, from the Gaelic earls who fled in 1607, through the rapparees and exiled Fenians of later centuries, down to the Joyce and Beckett who had to put themselves at a distance from Ireland in order to convince themselves that the place had ever existed. For the dandy’s tragedy turns out to have been the story of the bards who woke up to find themselves wandering spailpíní, and of gentry who were reborn as tramps. All such nomads know the truth of Wilde’s aphorism: that the first duty in life was to adopt a pose, a style, a way of being in the world. (Declain Kiberd)

I know I have not at all explicated the very interesting plot of "Players".   The last line is of the story sent me a shudder of recognition.  I may return to this and other of Hogan's stories at some point but for the net few posts I will be kind making points with the stories rather than about them.

But anyway Mr Mahaffy’s life’s work had become irrelevant in Sheona Barrett’s town. A few years before, on a New Year’s Eve, when snow was falling, screens lit up all over the town with their own snow to mark the first transmission by Irish television. (from "Players")

(Mr.Mahaffey was a traveling theatrical player.)  

Author Data

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, the premier source for quality books from and about Ireland.

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

I will be posting more on the short stories of Desmond Hogan during Irish Short Story Month, March 1 to March 31.

Mel u