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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First Book of Frags by Dave Lordan

First Book of Frags by David Lordan (2013, 149 pages)

March 1 to March 31

David Lordan 


Event Resources

There are lots of ways to participate  or be featured during Irish Short Story Month.  Contact me if you are interested.

“The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom...for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.”

I have read a number of stories about the dark streets of urban Ireland but none darker than those in The First Book of Frags.  I loved these stories.  They are violent and sexually explicit and that is part of the reason I like them.  One of the characters in the lead story quotes one of William Blake's proverbs.  I do not think Blake ever had the experiences in First Book of Frags by Dave Lordan  in  mind but I think Lordan knows what the proverb means in Ireland in 2013. 

To me posting on a collection of short stories by a single author presents a greater challenge than posting on a novel.  I do not especially like posts on anthologies of short stories that just rave on about them in general.  When I visit a forest I do not just like to see the trees, I like to see the moss that grows on them, the vines that climb them and listen to the birds that make them their home.  I like to peel the bark from the trees to see the insects that bore into the trees, I like to study their roots. Sometimes I like to climb to the top of the trees and survey the environment,  once in a rare while I build a tree house and stay a while.  In the case of the forest of The First Book of Frags I think I will rent a small cottage, one in a very dark part of the forest where no one I know from the sun lite part of my world would ever venture. I won't live here but every once in a while I will stay the night, alone but for a faithful, Rorrilla, timber wolf.    For sure I will have a weapon, probably a sawed-off shot- gun.  If I get lonely I will just offer any passing females cocaine  in exchange for their company.  If they fall asleep or should die in my company, I will, of course, strip them of all valuable and leave their remains outside my door knowing they are always gone by the morning.  Nobody in this part of the forest will ask a lot of questions.  If you disappear here, then you never really existed.    These lines from "Message From the Dead" serve as a kind of commentary to how we should read these frags:

 "Now she is scared but does not run away anymore, but goes deeper and deeper each time into the forest’s crackling shadowzone."

As is my normal procedure I will post on enough of the short stories in The First Book of Frags to give you a feel for the work and then I will generalize a bit about it and give my opinions on who should read it.  For those who want the bottom line now with out the rest of the blather, I would say go out and buy these stories if you really want to understand the dark streets of Ireland, not as a muggers/junkies paradise but as the path to wisdom, though it might not be for those who love Euro-Disney and whose greatest ambition in life is to scream in ecastasy on a TV game show after winning a blender.  I totally agree with Nuala Ní Chonchúir when she says "these stories are the work of a true original".   I found them amazing, almost flabbergastingly original.   Taken collectively, they are almost a direct assault on the complaisance of those who seek comfort over freedom, information over knowledge.  My guess is the Irish tourist board will not be giving out copies of this book at their office.  I think these stories do need to be read in the culture context of 20th and 21th century Ireland and European history and culture.  Maybe these stories are in part a development of these words from the master:  '"Do you know what Ireland is?  asked Stephen with cold violence.  Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow"

I take the works in The First Book of Frags very seriously. I know the ambitions in writing this were very high and they have been more than achieved.    Of course in reading one sees sometimes what one wants to see and I try to be aware of not forcing Lordan's stories into my preconceived notions about Irish short stories.

My only real secondary reading in the Irish short story is in Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of  the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd.  Kiberd takes a post-colonial approach to Irish literature and does place a lot, maybe too much, stress on the consequences of centuries of British rule had on the Irish Psyche. I do see the work of Lordan as quite approachable from this perspective.

"Christmas Cracker"

"This weather we all have our own way of being
born. Wiccan ceremonies. Underwater cameras.
Strap-on midwives. Laughing gas in near space
orbit. You name it, somebody has got to be online
streaming it."

Christmas in Dublin, but not the one depicted on the web page of Tourism Ireland might be how one would describe this story.  There are three characters in this story.  Or maybe four.  One is Lizzie, a scrawny coke head pediatric nurse.  The other is her man, Tom, a manual worker (called a manual) who us described as more like cross between a seal and a lean muscular horse.  It is Christmas day so Lizzie and Tom plan to first go to his house to see his mother then to her place for Christmas dinner.  Tom is very proud as he is three months sober now and he goes to the meetings.  As you can probably predict things do not work out.  At first Tom never shows up or answers his mobile.  Soon his mother is too drunk to care whether he shows up or not.  The ending celebrates the season with a brand new, to me any way, variation on the Christmas snow man.  Another man, not Tom, not 100 percent who he is but not everything has to be linear plot logic,  the narrator of the story shows in front of Lizzie totally naked but for having his entire body coated in cocaine.  Lizzie goes wild licking every bit of it from his body.  Talk about spending your Christmas bonus in a true blow out, this is it.  Lizzie knows what she is supposed to do for this coke and she does it and unless you are a better person than me, you will enjoy reading about it in the amazing prose of Lordan.

"Dr. Essler's Cocaine"

"The Irishman does not

care what his masters get up to as long as he is
allowed to get drunk and lash out at his own"

There is an old saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" but this story illustrates just how wrong this adage can sometimes be in its depiction of how the leader members of the Irish Nazi Party felt about the Irish.  Of course it is a work of fiction but I think there is no history lesson better than this story on this less than proud moment in Irish history.  It is my understanding that there was a giant Swastika up in Dublin which was not taken down until the last few months of the war when the Germans seem to have no chance of winning and that the head of the Irish National Museum in Dublin was the leader of the Irish Nazi Party.    This hilariously brutal story is set at a meeting of the high council of the Irish Nazi Party.  Dr. Essler is in charge and he keeps the party going with plenty of cocaine.  The drinks and food are served by the Irish waitress Betty and, with the consent of her Irish husband, she is soon serving drinks naked.  All of the guys take turns having sex with her.   She ends up drowning in a swimming pool after too much coke.  The story is told in the first person by a German assigned to Ireland to get the place ready for take over.    He imagines ancient Ireland and its Celtic warrior Kings and druid priests as the ancestors to the Nazis.  I think in a way these lines are an indirect attack on the stories of writers like Lord Dunsany but I am not sure on this.  Like Declan Kiberd said of the English, the Nazis totally orientalized the Irish, projecting them to be a people who turned to poetry, drink, and a mythical past of long ago to cope with their own failures.

"When a people dies out in disaster they and their symbols

become nothing more than matter for speculation,
for poetry. Meaning, too, is a victor’s prerogative."

When Betty is found dead there just happens to be Catholic Bishop there to perform last rites and a doctor to sign the death certificate.

The thoughts of the Nazi leader on the Irish are beautifully expressed by Lordan.

"In Ireland telling the truth is a symptom of madness.  Say nothin’ to no one about nothin’ at all and sure won’t you get along grand is how Paddy the old gardener puts it and it’s almost a national slogan.  The
Say nothin’ to no one about nothin’ at all and sure won’t
you get along grand is how Paddy the old gardener
puts it and it’s almost a national slogan.  The wit of the Irish is that of the cunning weakling who
knows just how weak he really is by comparison."

This is your stage Irishman laid bare.  This is a brilliant story and it is also fun to read, strange as that may sound.

"A Bill"

"Is the human species an attempt by

the planet, or even the universe as a whole, to
completely do away with itself? Any such line of
inquiry leads of course to cosmic intentions and
cosmic intentions are God. Is humanity the
suicide method of God? So, as you see, there is
endless matter for discussion, debate and multidisciplinary
research. I am certain that this new
suicide town will become an international center for such."

"A Bill" is a fascinating story about a seemingly post-apocalyptic country, not Ireland as there are inland islands, where a town has just achieved great distinction, it is the first suicide town in which every living resident killed themselves.  I liked in when the narrator talked about slow suicide, sometimes this cuts close.  I find the stories of Lordan strangely addictive and near compulsive reading.   If they do not entirely make sense to you I think that means you are beginning to get them.

"The Iron Lady"

"Centuries pass and fade and, although appearances

change over and over again, the power of the Great
Ones builds and builds, rooting and flowering in
ever greater proportions and varieties, continuously
"Quick Suggestion, Change the story title"
increasing complexity and strength. Though they
die a thousand times, our leaders are as
indestructible as they are merciless"

When I saw the title of this story, "The Iron Lady" I thought how nice a story about Margaret Thatcher.   Wrong!  This is a very magic realism story. Just read it and don't try to figure it out.

"A Message to the Dead"

"Roro lives in Dublin, city of the running smiles on
rotting billboards. Trick city, edge city, paranoid
city, surface city, city of sirens and strokes, city of
the second-hand tablets, of the tranquilized foetus,
ADHD city, junk-sale city, pest city, bust city, cut
city, festering city, wrecked city, locked city, wasted
city, bad-batch city, city of the small dog pretending
to be big dog, city where the artists are panhandlers
"Nice story"-Ezra
and panhandling is the greatest art".

There is a love of Death in the Irish short story, a fear, a fascination that transcends that of most other literary cultures.  One of the things one sees happen in cultures or societies which find themselves losing their grip on their old realities is a fascination with mediums, seers, and such.  People grasp for a sense of worth or success through mastering arcane intellectual systems  Some believe it some are charlatans that repudiate the science and beliefs of the main- stream society that repudiates them.  Imagine a society where poets sleep on tombstones and where Jean Rhys in the midst of her worst delirium raving on the streets of London would be seen as a holy prophet and you enter the world of "A Message to the Dead".  It is the story of Roro, who lives in a huge Dublin cemetery.   She feels she can send messages to the dead.  It is interesting that one of the poets mentioned is Ezra Pound.   Pound, like many a poet, felt the end of his world was the end of the world.  You should get a recording of the Cantos of Ezra Pound and play it full blast as your read this story.  Turn it up so loud your neighbors will call the police.  Hide with Roro in the darkest most run down part of the cemetery when you hear them approaching.    The story can be seen very readily as a commentary on contemporary Dublin.  Roro evokes old Druidism beliefs, or at least what Irish scholars fancy they were.  The prose is simply amazing.   I see Ezra rising up and screaming "Yes, Yes, I told you so".

"The Destruction of Europe is Hiring"

"The destruction of Europe is  beginning of Europe.  Giving birth to Europe was the same as destroying it"

"The Destruction of Europe" starts out with an advertisement for a job posted by either an Alien Princess sent to destroy at least Europe or a complete lunatic, or maybe both.  It then proceeds to a very weird, completely fascinating job description/interview.  It is just a flat out amazingly crazy story which goes deeply into the nature of European culture.  You are advised that during the interview you will be quizzed on the complete works of De Sade, Cervantes, and Shakespeare.  You will start out by destroying the small towns of Europe.  There are lots of things about cities in the Frags.  Most facile thing to say is that there is a consistent love hate relationship with big cities with an extra spot for Venice.

"A billion year Reich is emerging, visible to anyone who dares to look close enough and who is capable of thinking through the data. The new Omnipower will be based on the evolutionary synthesis of nano-technology, wireless computing, solar power, robotics and the built environment - on everything that goes to making up the modern city. Repeat: everything that makes the city is approaching sophisticated technological

synthesis on the deepest cellular level."

"Attacks on the House"

"The house was attacked by envious students from

our various creative writing and life drawing
classes. All our successes should have been their
success. All our praises should have been their
praises. All our invites and prizes should have been
their invites and prizes. The jealous, accusing
students attacked and attacked but they really had
nothing to attack us with. They were nothing only
steam and pus without us."

"Attacks on the House" is set in an artist and writer's retreat in Ulster, but it is not quite the Ulster of the real world.  At first the house is under attack from a motor cycle gang.  The stress of this is magnified by the hyper-sensitivity of the retreat residents.   Then North Vietnamese Army attacks them.  In case you wonder what the NVA is doing in the hills of Ulster, you should know by now logic and historical continuity are not big factors in Frags.  Then the house is attacked by an army of internet porn stars.  OK maybe with a big maybe I get this.  The motor cycle gangs are the violent lures of the big city, the NVA is the disruptions and corruptions America's wars against third world countries have brought to the world, and the internet porn stars represent the distractions from creativity the internet brings us.  Then they are attacked by Hares (rabbits to some of us) falling from the sky.  OK here I am stumped a bit other than to say maybe this somehow  symbolizes the temptation of writers to enliven their work with easy magic realism styles.  The story is also a kind of satire (wrong word but cannot think of better one right now) on literary workshops.  In one of the Q and A sessions done by an Irish author it has been suggested that Irish literary workshops are kind of a cottage industry which cannot thrive unless students are made to believe they are budding geniuses.   This perpetuates a climate of self-satisfaction and lotus blossom gazing as addictive as the cocaine so evident in these stories.   I am sure there are "in jokes" here I miss but that is OK.  Great story.

The Frags in The First Book of Frags by Dave Lordan are really amazing reads, very original, more than a bit demented, and they will for sure make you laugh and at times gasp in a mixture of shock and delight.  There are things to offend almost everyone in these Frags.  There is really a tremendous lot in these works to like and enjoy and they will certainly make you think.  I will concede the ultra prudish might be offended and I think they are supposed to be by how women are treated.   This a deeply creative book.  The frags at times do not have so much of a consciously created feel but as if they were dictations from the consciousness of a wired for destruction Ireland.  The frags do exhibit the themes I have talked of this month.  Namely those of the weak or absent Irish father, the escape in drink and now cocaine, the way in which the Irish hide behind the persona of the stage Irish, and the way in which Irish literature feeds upon itself, which is part of why it is so rich.   The stories in here are almost a new form or for sure at least a new development of an old one.  We also see how the Irish use their history to shield themselves from the reality of Ireland.  I hope to read many more frags from Dave Lordan.  I know I will never achieve a right brained grasp of them and I am not working toward that goal anyway.  As I read on in the Irish short story I am, I know this is immodest, trying to modify or transform my literary sensibility in such a way that I can let the works role over me like the ocean, getting what I get.  

  Here is how the author explained it to me in an e-mail to me when I asked him how the stories were interconnected 

The stories are interconnected by the concept of the FRAG: 


1: A remnant out of which a whole or wholes may be speculated, but not reconstructed. A Frag is not a Fragtal. The relationship(s) of a frag to a whole or wholes is complex and necessarily phantasmagoric. It is possible that there is no relationship: A part with no whole to go to. Neither is a frag required to be internally consistent either structurally or hermeneutically. Its own constituent parts may therefore make no sense, or at least no immediately discernible sense, in relation to one another.
2: A sign of decay, impending collapse, transformation.
3:  Of or related to fragging, the mutinous practice of the lower ranks executing their officers. vb reg. To Frag e.g Major Woodburn was fragged last night when the men put a grenade into his pillowcase while he was sleeping.
4: A piece of shrapnel or debris left over after an explosion, including organic debris, such as the universe.
5: A fragment of any kind.
6: A piece of Atheological scripture or a script based atheological divining method sometimes employing automatic writing and sense disruption techniques in order to attempt communication with, or attempt to represent, that which and/or those who cannot concretely exist and must be imagined into being instead.
7:  A literary form drawing on any, some, or all of the above definitions.

Author Data 

Dave Lordan is the first writer to win his country’s three major prizes for young poets. He was the 2011 Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award winner and is a previous winner of both the Patrick Kavanagh and Strong Awards for poetry. He has won wide acclaim for his writing and is a renowned performer of his own work, with the Irish Times calling him 'as brilliant on the page as he is in performance'. He has read his work by invitation at festivals and venues across Europe and North America. His collections are the The Boy in The Ring (2007) and Invitation to a Sacrifice (2010), both published by Salmon Poetry ( His poems are regularly broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and he reviews for many publications including The Stinging Fly, of which he is a contributing editor. He teaches contemporary poetry and critical theory at the Mater Dei Institute of Dublin City University and he teaches creative writing at primary, secondary, third, and adult education levels. He blogs on writing at

You can read the reactions of a number of people to First Book of Frags on the publisher's webpage.

1 comment:

Rachel Fenton said...

A compelling review, Mel. Many thanks for posting this. I'm looking forward to reading Dave's book very soon.