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, June 27, 2013

Shauna Gilligan Two New Short Stories from the author of Happiness Comes from Nowhere

Shauna Gilligan, author of Happiness Comes from Nowhere, is an author whose work I have been following for over a year now.  In addition to posting on her wonderful novel, I have shared my thoughts on a number of her marvelous short stories with my readers.   She has also contributed several guests posts to The Reading Life, including an introductory post to my on going project on the work of Desmond Hogan.  She also contributed a very informative Q and A Session during Irish Short Story Month Year III.

I was very happy when I found she has recently published two more short stories (both of which can be read online)

"Remains"   is a brief work that centers on the marriage of a woman to a man twenty six years her senior.   The opening line of the story caught my attention:  "Our house is full of dead people's furniture".   I have said before that there is a strong preoccupation, almost a love, for death in much of Irish literature.  She lives in the house where her husband lived with his first wife.   The woman, I think, married a much older man in the buried somewhere in the darker regions of her psyche hope he will die much earlier than she does so she can spend many years with a dead man as the leading person in her life.  "Remains" lets us see how things take on  life of their own.  It also sharply depicts the need of the new wife to make the grand house they live in her own, building up a shield for the long forthcoming time of the domination of death over life.

You can read this story at

"Bachelor's Beep" centers on a woman, fifty years of age, with six children.   She struggles to make ends meet and when we first meet her she has just been rejected as a renter of a house that would have been perfect for them.  The landlord did not want that many kids in his house.   She is separated from her husband.   There is a lot in this story and my main purpose in this post is to let my readers know of this new story.  I greatly enjoyed it and recommend it as very much worth your time.

(You can read this story at

Mel u

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Imelda Marcos The Untold Story by Carmen Navaro Pedroso (1970, with 2013 epilogue)

Ferdinand Marcos (1917 to 1989) ruled the Philippines with dictatorial powers from 1965 when he was elected President to 1986 when he was disposed in the 1986 People Power Revolution.  The People Power Revolution culminated in four days of largely peaceful demonstrations in Manila on February 22 to the 26.  Millions demanded Marcos resign.   Marcos knew he had to leave when the police and military refused his commands to use extreme force to disperse the crowds, including Air Force battle helicopters.  The military leaders knew if they ordered their men to fire on their own relatives they would be in grave danger themselves.  My wife and Father in Law were among the demonstrators.  

Marcos was not a monster like Stalin, Hitler, or Mao.   At most a few political opponents deaths can be attributed to him.  He did not cause the death of millions, he started no wars.  He was more motivated by accumulating massive amounts of wealth and Imelda Marcos was very much a part of this aspect of his rule.   Marcos basically stole from the Filipino people huge amounts of American aid money meant to help the ordinary people raise their living standard.  He also exploited the business people of the country, demanding massive kickbacks.  One of the secrets to his power was in the charm and world class beauty of his wife Imelda Marcos who charmed everyone from American Presidents to the voters of the country.   Imelda initiated a massive public works campaign and then got huge payments by the contractors on the project.  

Carmen Pedrosa's book goes deeply into the family background of Imelda, two generations back.  She explains to us the forces in the life history of Imelda that drive her to such extremes of consumerism as her 5000 pair shoe collection. There is a lot to be learned about how politics worked (and still works) in the Philippines from this book.  Political power is in the hands of a few families, as is the wealth of the country.  This is a very much worth reading book for those into modern Filipino history and politics.  

You can purchase this book and 100s of other titles relating to the Philippines at 

Mel u

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895, 117 pages)

Google Reader is closing down on July first so if you follow my blog there, for which I greatly thank you, you need to find another RSS reader very soon.   I have tried several.  The best to me so far is Bloglovin'' and then Feedly.  Both have a direct simple method of importing your Google reader subscriptions. If you Google "replacements for Google Reader" you will see the web pages for these readers and others.   Google has hurt the book  blog world by this action but I guess maybe it is somehow progress.  You can also follow my blog by e mail subscriptions or via Twitter as @thereadinglife.   I have used Google reader for years and will miss it a lot.  I just cannot get crazy for Google Plus.

I last read The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1870 to 1900, New Jersey, USA) several decades ago.  I as motivated to reread it by Edmund White's novel about the last year of Crane's life, Hotel de Dream.  I wish I had a book blog post from long ago so I could see what I thought of the work  when I read it first.   Crane never experienced a battle before writing The Red Badge of Courage when he was barely twenty one.  The work follows the military career of a young New York man in the American Civil War.  By consensus it is one of the classics of American literature and it considered comparable to the very best world wide of battle literature depicting war from the point of view of the foot soldier.  Much of the power of the book is seeing how the battles take the man, really a boy, from callow youth eager for battle against demonized enemies to a much different person as the work closes.   Crane's descriptions of the horrors of war and its absurdity are very powerful.    

Mel u

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hotel de Dream by Edmund White (2007, 228 pages)

I have wanted to read a novel by Edmund White (1940,USA) for sometime now.   Many consider him the best writer who consciously identifies  themselves as a Gay author focusing on Gay life style issues and Gay artists. He has written in addition to numerous novels and short stories biographies of Genet and Proust as well as numerous cultural essays.  He was greatly praised by Susan Sontag and Vladimir Nabokov, among many others.  

I like to read novels and short stories that center on famous authors and Hotel de Dream centers on the last year of the life of the great American writer, Stephen Crane.  (1871 to 1900, born New Jersey, 
Works include Red Badge of Courage and Maggie Girl of the Streets.)  The concept of the novel is very creative and superbly interesting.   Stephen Crane, dying of TB,recalls when he was  is in New York City living with his mistress and many thought wife, Cora.  Crane was very much into prostitutes and enjoyed their company as much as their services.  All biographical data points to him being exclusively heterosexual. In walking the streets on day he meets a young man of 15, obviously a prostitute.  He looks terribly sick and has a horrible history of sexual abuse to tell.  He ran away to the streets of New York to escape the repeated rapes by his father and brothers.  Crane becomes fascinated with him and tells Cora, former prostitute and Madame of a Florida brothel.  There is a literary legend that at the time of his death Crane was working on a story about a young male street prostitute and in an incredibly bold device White includes a version of this story (one he created, of course).  In the story the young man he met, Eliot works the streets as a newsboy and also sells sex to men.  A business man falls in love with him.  I will leave rest of this imagined novel untold but it is really devastating.  We do learn a lot about Gay life on the streets and bars in late 19 th century.  Some of the slang is interesting and some who have read the novel said the slang terms are in part satirical inside jokes and I felt that at times.

The novel has really three segments, the false lost novel, the story from Stephen's point of view and from Cora's perspective. 

The novel takes place not in New York State but in the English countryside, where Cora took Crane in the hope he might recover.  Cora kind of reminded me, having recently read a new biography of James Joyce, of Nora Barnacle in that she deeply love him, saw his weaknesses and in  way deeply understood him but knew little if his work other than as something from which money could sometimes be made.  

Hotel de Dream is a terrible clever and creative novel that illuminates gay street life in New York City around 1898.  I will read, I hope, more of his work.  

I was inspired to reread Red Badge of Courage and hope to post on it soon.

Mel u

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Midwife to the Fairies New and Selected Stories by Eilis Ni Dhuibhe (2003, 12 short stories)

Eilis Ni Dhuibhne (1954, Dublin) is one of the recognized masters of the contemporary short story.  I have previously posted on two her novels and several of her short stories.  She is a highly regarded academic folklorist and ancient myths often structure her stories.  This is a delightful collection and might be a good place to start reading her.  

There is not a bad story in the collection.  The most famous one is the title story.  The most darkly humorous story was "Fulfillment", about a dog killer.  Her stories flip back and forth in time brilliantly

She deals very much with lives of women, their internal conflicts. 

I have another of her short story collections Inland Ice and will start on it soon.  

Mel u

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Joyce A New Biography by Gordan Bowker (2012, 656 pages)

Decades ago I read Ulysses .  I also read Richard Ellman's  highly regarded biography.  Ulysses is the most influential literary work since Don Quixote.   His life is the stuff of literary legend and his persona is used by Ireland as a cultural icon to draw in literary tourists.  I cannot help but feel there is a deep irony in this given that Joyce left Ireland in 1914 and never returned.  There is much expression of hatred for Ireland in his work though I somehow suspect he would have felt the same way about any homeland.   He was deeply obsessed with Ireland and all his work centers on the country.  This includes even Finnegan's Wake, basing this on  Bowker.   The life of Joyce is now a deeply embedded part of Irish literary culture and Bowker's biography seems to me an excellent way to begin to understand it.  No one could explain how from the incidents of his life could result in the production of Ulysses but Bowker does a lot to show us how Joyce used his life experiences in his work.  

Drawing on the work of Delcan Kiberd (who praised this book in his review in The Guardian) who writes in depth on this in his majestic Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation I recently asked 80 Irish writers if they thought Kiberd was right when he said the weak or missing father was the dominant theme of modern Irish literature.  Kiberd details this theme in The Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man and to a lesser extent through Ulysses. The responses from the writers ranged from yes, to saying it is one of the themes to repudiation.  Bowker lets us see the weakness in the father of Joyce in considerable detail.  Joyce as a father is also one of the most important aspects of this biography.  That he deeply loved his children is clear.  What is subject to pondering is if his own weakness, proclivity for drinking himself into oblivion, his bad money handling skills, his deep dependence on female patrons, and his incredible vanity (justified) and sense at times that his work was more important than his family were not a manifestation of the weakness of the Irish father.  One must say, it seems to me, that Joyce exemplified many of the things he hated about his own father.  

Even though I knew the basic details of the life of Joyce, I found this book fascinating.  I felt so bad for Joyce with his eye problems and I felt ashamed of his need to drink until he had to be carried home.  I think I understand his love for whore mongering, no offense to anyone meant by this term but that is the best way to describe it.  Joyce was not into high class prostitutes, even when he could afford them.  Bowker tries hard to understand this.   There is also the complex issue of his relationship to Nora Barnacle. This is tied in with his obsession with Night Town and its easy cheap prostitutes.  Joyce, think back to Swift, probably conflated sex with other bodily functions and might have been into being urinated or defected on.   He was deeply Catholic and that comes with a heavy sexual guilt.  

Joyce did have jobs, as a language teacher, he was fluent in four languages and in total was comfortable in thirteen, as a clerk using his Italian skills but for much of his life he depended on help from others.  He had a wealthy American patron,  Harriet Weaver, who, per Bowker, over the course of his life, gave Joyce nearly £250,000 pounds.   It was hard to admire Joyce when you read that he would ask Weaver for money pleading of his very real poverty, then once he has some money, spending lavishly for fancy meals.  

We also meet Ezra Pound who did greatly help Joyce.  Of course Samuel Beckett appears and the material relating to Sylvia Beach was fascinating.

Bowker details the tremendous problems Joyce had with censors in England and the USA where postal authorities seized Ulysses.  There are many fascinating people in Joyce's circle.  His genius was fully seen by many astute people.   Through out his life, Joyce was beset by very serious eye problems and Bowker goes into some detail about this and it's impact. 

We see the many years devoted to his work.  We learn of his deep love for word play.  One gets the feeling if Joyce had lived on a few years (1882 to 1941) he well might have won the Nobel Prize.   

Bowker explains the mental illness of Joyce's daughter, it is hard to have a genius for a father.  

I commend this book (I was in the interest of full disclosure given this book by the publisher) to anyone interested in Joyce or really modern Irish literature.  It has inspired me to try to read Ulysses again.   

Bowker (London) is also the author of biographies of Malcolm Lowry and George Orwell.  I hope to at least read his Orwell biography one day.

Mel u


Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Araby" by James Joyce (1914, from Dunliners)

Every year on June 16 Bloomsday is observed all around the world in any place where the legacy of James Joyce is held in high esteem.  June 16 1904 is the day on which Ulysses takes place.  Starting in 2010  I have observed Bloomsday by posting on one of the short stories in  Dubliners.   The more I read in Irish literature, the bigger the shadow of Joyce's stories I see.   The pervasive melancholy and sense of the confining quality of life brought on by history  permeates Irish writers whether or not they have read Joyce or not.   In doing Q and A sessions with 80 Irish writers very few mentioned Joyce as an influence.  I think this is really a testament to his overwhelming power.  Fish do not see the water in their world.  Recently I had the very meaningful to me experience of seeing where "The Dead" was set and walked the streets of Dublin.   

"Araby" centers on a young boy, maybe thirteen or so who lives with his aunt and uncle, his parents being dead..  (I see this as another small manifestation of the theme of the missing father, which some see as a very important theme in Irish literature.).  It is a kind if coming of age story.   The boy has his first infatuation with a neighbor girl.

The story is told in the first person, the neighborhood is bleak and adults struggle to grind out a living.  The boy convinces himself he is in love with a friend's sister.  He creates adolescent fantasies about  courtly romance with her. When he at last tremblingly speaks with her, she tells him she is sad because she cannot go to the annual Araby fair.  He promises to go and buy her a present. Because of his uncle coming home late from work when he gets to the festival it is almost closed.  Compared to his mental image, it is a shabby event.    Sadness as he sees the folly in his fantasy brings him to a realization of the limits of life and a vision of his own future.  

I wish everyone a happy Bloomsday!  Next year will be the the centenary of the publication of The Dubliners and I look forward to immense activity on Bloomsday next year.  

Mel u

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Indian Dreams" by M. J. Akbar (1977)

I have on my IPAD five anthologies of Indian short stories, all in all about 140 stories.   I hope to read and post on some of these works in 2013.  One reason for doing this is to give me a non-European assembly of short stories as a cultural reference to help me see differences in short stories of different cultures. The main reason is to read works by a lot of mostly new to me writers.  I will begin my reading with Best Indian Short Stories, Vol. 1 and 2, edited and selected by Khushwant Singh.   All of the stories in these collections were originally published in The Illustrated Weekly of India from 1969 to 1979 when Singh was editor.   

M. J. Akbar (Calcutta, 1951) has had a long very distinguished career as a journalist and author.  "Indian Dreams" centers on a young Muslim man we meet just as he graduates from college.  He and his two best friends spent as much time in a local coffee shop discussing the preoccupations of the men, sex being one of the biggest, as they do in school.  The man has gone to a second class school and does not speak the socially desirable version of British English.   He knows he has to find a good job if he is to be considered as a husband of a young upper class woman he is infatuated with.  The problem is that for every job there are 100s, even 1000s of applicants.   His bitterness grows with every rejection.  Meanwhile his friends tease him about being a virgin, urging him to go see a prostitute they frequent, Lilly.   Finally he does go visit her, she is lovely and a decent acting woman who knows it is his first time.   He feels somehow guilty over having sex with her.  It is a violation of the teachings of his religion and he feels he has been unfaithful to the woman he loves even though he never meets her.  The story ends with his suicide and his friends confusion over it.  

"Indian Dreams" is a very well done story that lets us inside a troubled mind.  

Mel u

House of Gold by Liam O'Flaherty (1929)

 In 1929 the stock market in New York City crashed, starting a ten year world wide economic down trend which was part of the cause of WWII.   The post important book published that year was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.  1929 was also the year in which the Irish Free State Board of Censorship first banned a book.  That book was House of Gold by Liam O'Flaherty (1896 to 1984 - Inishmore, Ireland) which was declared obscene.  O'Flaherty went on to have a long successful career as a writer, living mostly in America.  

I have read and enjoyed a number of O'Flaherty's short stories.   I first became aware of his set in Galway House of Gold through publicity surrounding its recent republication.  The novel opens with a section in which a woman married to a prominent local business man and power broker and her lover have sex, outdoors as was common in a time of no motels and gossips everywhere.  It is not at all graphic but there is a reference to the woman putting her skirt back on at the end of the encounter and I am guessing this is what was seen as obscene.  As is well explained in the introduction to the book by 1929 the British landlords and officials had been replaced by home grown tyrants.   The narration of the story refers to the common people of the area as "peasants".   I think, in part, The House of Gold is a protest of the romanticizing of the Irish peasant seen in much of the popular literature of the time.  Even the political leaders of the period tried to use the image of a happy contented populace away from the corruption of modern influences to manipulate the citizens of Ireland.  Much of the novel can be seen as an attack on the role of the Catholic priest as a tool of the wealthy to control the masses.  O'Flaherty was a Communist and subscribed fully to the view that religion was "the opiate of the people" and served to keep the "peasants" servile.   No doubt one of the factors in the novel that caused outrage in the censorship board was the depiction of a priest as lusting after a married woman.   

In the introduction it is stated that the peasants in House of Gold are kind of corrective figures to the smiling shuffling figures in the works of Sommerville and Ross and I see this.   

The dominating figure in the novel is a former peasant who through great industry and shrewdness has made himself a very big fish in a small pond, dominating the economic life of the area.  The adulterous woman is married to him and it is a pure sham of a marriage.  

O'Flaherty is known for his wonderful descriptions of nature and landscapes and I found many beautiful and lyrical passages that I relished.   

This a worth reading novel for those seriously into Irish literature and history.  It lets us see a lot about "real life" in Ireland in 1929.   It is not a great novel but I think it is an important book for its historical value.  
There are lot of typos in this edition, enough to make me think nobody proof read it.  

Mel u

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dark Lies The Island by Kevin Barry (2012, 185 pages, 13 short stories)

Kevin Barry is a major fast rising star in the Irish contemporary literary constellation.   His novel, City of
Bohane, (Limerick) recently won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.   In the 80 Q and A sessions I have done with Irish writers many said that Kevin Barry was one of the very best contemporary short story writers.    I have previously read and posted on two stories from this collection, "Fjord of Killary" and "Beer Trip to Llandudno", both of which I greatly enjoyed.  

Many of these stories are very dark indeed.    One of, it seems to me, characteristics of a lot of the Irish works I have read is that they dwell on the limitations our circumstances put on our hopes.   With Bloomsday  approaching fast, it seems the melancholy of The Dubliners casts a very long shadow over Irish writers.   It may also instead be that the stories in The Dubliners are simply brilliant articulations of the national psyche.   

Several of these stories present horrible events and terrible people.  We meet two old ladies who snatch babies in one amazing story with as savage an ending as I have seen in a while. We see a mentally challenged person assaulted.    There is a lot of drinking.   Barry's prose is wonderful and his sense of place is very powerful.  

I greatly enjoyed this collection.  I must note with disappointment that some of the pages in this Vintage Press  publication fell out as I was reading.   Readers and Kevin Barry deserve better quality.  

I will soon, I hope, read Barry's first collection of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Day of The Locust by Nathanael West (1939, 168 pages)

The Day of the Locust of the Locust by Nathaniel West (1903 to 1940 - he died in a car wreck- real name Nathan Von Wallstein) is set in Hollywood among people drawn there by the motion picture industry. It is full of grotesque characters and somehow brought to my mind a Southern California version of the people in the stories of Flannery O'Connor.   It is second best to his sublime master work, Miss Lonely Heart (1933) which is one of the greatest of American novels.   

The central figure works as a set designer for a Hollywood studio but his passion is his in process work on a painting in the grand tradition of 19th century Spanish painters, a painting he calls The Burning of Los Angeles.   Everyone in this story is fatally flawed.  The only person of decent character, one Homer Simpson (I think the creators of the cartoon have acknowledged this source) is pretty much of a clueless idiot.  The novel has hookers, con men, Mexican cock fighting fans (there is a horrific scene of a cock fight which is kind of a metaphor for the lives of the people in the story), a trouble making dwarf among others.  

Southern California in 1939, America was just getting ready to go into W W Two and exit a terrible ten year economic depression, was kind of a magnet for the rootless, a new promised land.  There is a good bit of religious symbolism in the novel, from the title on.    It is a lot of fun to read and hilarious in places.   

I would suggest you first read Miss Lonely Heart and then if you like that read The Day  of the Locust.

I hope to read his other two novels, both also under 200 pages, one day.

The Day of the Locust is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free.  

Mel u

The Night

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kate Dempsey A Question and Answer Session with the author of "Saturday's Kiss"

The Irish Quarter

Kate Dempsey

Last year during Irish Short Story Week Year Two, I was lucky enough to read and post on an excellent short story by Kate Dempsey, "Saturday's Kiss".  I am delighted to be able to present her answers to some of my questions.

Official Biography

Kate Dempsey writes fiction and poetry and lives in Ireland. She has been collecting jobs for her author biography since she could read. She has worked as a coffee grinder, a terrible waitress in Woolworths, a Harrods shop assistant, a computer programmer, a technical writer, a writer in schools and a mother. She's lived in England, Scotland, The Netherlands, South West USA and now in Ireland.
These diverse jobs and homes are reflected in her witty, observational writing, which is widely published in Ireland and the UK. Her short stories have been broadcast on RTE Radio and published in the Poolbeg Anthology 'Do The Write Thing.' She was shortlisted for the Hennessey New Irish Writing award three times and her poetry in many magazines and anthologies. She runs the Poetry Divas Collective, a glittering group of women who blur the wobbly boundaries between page and stage at cool events all over Ireland

Her first novel, The Story of Plan B, was shortlisted for the London Book Fair.  You can purchase it as an E book here

She has also published a collection of poems, Some Poems.

Her blog, Emerging Writer, is a very good source of information about literary happenings in Ireland and a great place to find lots of reading ideas.   It is also about her personal life as an emerging writer.   She is very perceptive and funny and I will be following her blog and writing career from now on.  

1. Please tell us who some 
short story writers you find yourself often returning to are?  Do you have 
anything like a favorite short story?  Who are some contemporary short story 
writers you admire?
In no particular order, I love Kevin Barry ‘There are Little Kingdoms,’ 
Canadian genius, Alice Munro, Madcap US writer Miranda July, Raymond Carver 
is taut perfection, Katharine Mansfield who manages to be relevant today, 
Angela Carter wrote amazing magical realism and pro-women stories and US 
writer Andrew Kaufman who has the best titles. I’d better stop now.
I do enjoy the short stories recorded and then analysed by The New Yorker 
magazine, Check out Bullet in the Brain and also The Lottery. Classic and 
classy American.
2.  I recently read Strumpet City by James Plunkett (the 2013 Dublin One 
City One Book Selection).  It presents a culture whose very life blood seems 
to be whiskey.   Drinking seems much more a factor in Irish literature than 
Indian, Japanese or even American.  There are rude sayings like “God Created 
Whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world” and “Without Guinness the 
birth rate in Ireland would be near zero”.  What do you think are some of 
the causes of this or is it just a myth?.   It seems to me from my reading 
of Irish short stories that few important conversations or events happen 
without drinking.   Is anything like this a factor in your work?
Coming from outside, alcohol abuse is noticeable in Ireland. Drinking in 
moderation is less noticeable. Many (most?) social occasions here do involve 
alcohol and some people do not seem to be able to enjoy them without 
over-indulging, to the extent that they plan to be plastered and hungover 
before they even start. Why would you plan to get sick? However, plenty of 
people can and do have conversations with little or no alcohol involved. 
Both types are in Irish literature.
Alcohol abuse is by no means restricted to Ireland. Much literature from all 
over the west include it as part of the social landscape. Irvin Walsh, Jack 
Kerouac, Evelyn Waugh, Helen Fielding, Tennessee Williams to select a 
diverse list.
Is it a factor in my work? Not much in my fiction. The odd episode. I have a 
poem called Stupid Things Done When Drunk, many tales of which I have stolen 
from other people.
3. Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is 
that of the weak or missing father?   Do you think he is right?  How does 
this manifest itself in your work?     In your wonderful short story 
“Saturday’s Kiss” the woman in the story refers to her husband (they have 
sons) as her “biggest boy”, when she goes out on her own on a Saturday, he 
calls her three times with questions like “where is my wallet?”-is he being 
depicted as basically a nice but weak father with the wife gradually being 
moved into a motherly role toward him as he becomes increasingly helpless 
without her?
I don’t think he’s right. Maybe he reads different modern Irish literature 
to me. With the increase of marriage breakups, the single parent family is 
becoming more commonplace. There is a generation of children in some sectors 
of society, most noticeably in the US, who are growing up with no father 
figures, sometimes for the second generation, and that has to affect the 
In my short story, Saturday’s Kiss, the husband character is only just 
touched on. Certainly there must be something lacking in their relationship 
that his wife develops such a yen for a kiss. Equally though, he could have 
an inkling that she needs him to need her.
4.  Who are some contemporary poets you admire?  If you could hear three 
dead poets read their work who would you pick?
That’s hard to answer and get everyone in. I know a lot of poets and I’d be 
hesitant mentioning some and not others. Of poets I don’t know, I’d 
highlight Simon Armitage and Wendy Cope as huge influences. Kate Tempest is 
amazing. Other poets I’d like to know more include Mark Grist, Kathryn 
Simmonds, Jane Clarke, Ian McMillan, David Mohan, Anne Sexton, Pat Boran and 
Billy Collins. I am also taken with the Dutch poet Vrouwkje Tuinman and I’ve 
worked with her on some translations, which is very cool.
Dead Poets? Well, Dylan Thomas but preferably with Richard Burton doing the 
actual reading. If I can’t have that, how about Adrian Mitchell or, no, 
Edwin Morgan the Scottish poet. Then I have to insist on William 
Shakespeare. Wouldn’t that be fantastic. Stratford is only down the road 
from Coventry where I grew up so I feel an affinity. I’d like to say Philip 
Larkin as he was born there but I have read that he’s not the most exciting 
reader so how about e e cummings?
5.   The Fall of Celtic Tiger, the Irish Economy,has caused a lot of pain 
and misery.  Is there a positive side to this?  what lessons for the future 
can writers take to their work?  has it in any sense brought people closer 
to values other than consumerism?  Is it just another day in the life of the 
I am a glass half full kind of person. There's a positive side to most 
things, unless you're slap bang on the receiving end. What lessons can 
writers take? Well, poetry doesn't pay. But it never has. Unless you win the 
Noble Prize. People are more selective about which poetry publications they 
buy and some magazines have gone to the wall. Established publishers are 
more selective, less adventurous on taking on untried, untested writers. But 
there are always new publishers springing up, although some of questionable 
quality, both content and printing. More poetry is now published online now, 
another recession friendly option. But quantity and quality do not 
necessarily go hand in hand here either.
Has the recession brought people closer to values other than consumerism? 
Was consumerism ever a value? i suppose some people who used to be 
materialistic are now less so. You do see evidence of people trying harder 
to buy local goods in local businesses which has to be good for the 
I’ve been through recessions before. Though each recession and each recovery 
is different. Some people and some communities never really recover.
6.   A while ago i read and posted on a long biography of Hart
Crane, author of the Bridge-few read it but many know of his life style as 
one of the first Gay poets living out a life of rough trade and wealthy 
older benefactors-he lived a very chaotic life and died young from suicide 
by jumping off a cruise ship. His father invented Life Saver Candy and 
wanted Hart to go in the Candy business with him-so if he Hart had done this 
and died at 75 rich living in ohio fat bald and married would he still be 
even much thought about let alone read?  One of the most references poets is 
Arthur Rimbaud who likewise had a short and chaotic life.   Does a poet need 
or naturally tend to a chaotic life?  why so much seeming admiration for 
writers like Jack Kerouac and others who died way to young from alcohol 
abuse.    (I know this is long, please just respond to it as you will.)
There is a school of thought that you have to be slightly off kilter if not 
out and out crazy to be an artist. There are many examples (Dylan Thomas, 
Sylvia Plath, Van Gogh, Lord Byron) but some are steady as she goes (Jane 
Austen, Philip Larkin, Chekov). To be an artist though, it’s better to be 
open to new things, chaotic or otherwise. I am a strong believer in putting 
myself outside my comfort zone every now and then. It doesn’t always work 
out, it’s sometimes a disaster but it enlivens. Imagine what other work 
those who died too young could have produced if they’d survived longer.
7.    Tell us about your educational background?
I went to a huge mixed, multi-cultural city comprehensive school in 
Coventry. Most students were groomed to apprentice at the car factories (the 
boys) or as service workers like secretaries and hairdressers. But the 
industry was collapsing around the city and it was a depressed time with 
high unemployment. My year was very academic and four of us won places at 
Oxbridge, unheard of in those parts. I loved my Physics degree and my time 
at Oxford but I couldn’t see myself going into research or teaching so I 
went into IT.
8.    What are some of your favorite movies?  What was the last movie you 
saw, the last novel you read?  Do you watch much TV or have favorite 
Choosing a favourite movie is like choosing your favourite biscuit. It’s a 
game we sometimes play in the car and the list is different every time. For 
now let’s say Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Singing In The Rain, 
Pulp Fiction for Tarantino, Down By Law, Moon, The Blues Brothers, Lost in 
Translation, Subway (for my foreign film) and O Brother Where Art Thou for 
my Cohen Brothers film.
We have only just got Sky at home and a Sky box. It’s like magic. You don’t 
ever have to watch an advert again. I watch Doctor Who (especially good when 
written by Stephen Moffat), Sherlock (Russell Davies) Mad Men (Characters 
and fashion), Game of Thrones (Dialogue is fantastic) also any Scandinavian 
noir on BBC4 Saturday 9pm. I love Star Trek too, all series. Someone lent me 
the boxset of The Wire which was gobsmackingly good. HBO. I enjoy genealogy 
of Who Do You Think You Are, anything with Professor Brian Cox and/or Dara O’Briain 
and guiltily The Great British BakeOff.
9. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population 
number of great writers?  Or is this a myth?
10. (This may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe 
in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking 
" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the 
rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this 
it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel 
Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College 
Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American 
anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied 
with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."
I’d say no but not out loud. And then I remember that I have actually seen a 
leprechaun. At the Cliffs of Moher.
11.  You, according to your bio, were born in Coventry England, you have 
lived before Ireland in England, Scotland, the Southwest USA (please tell us 
where) and in the Netherlands.  How did you wind up in Ireland?   What place 
do you think of as home?
I grew up in England and Scotland. I was living and working in The 
Netherlands and met my Irish husband there. We lived for a couple of years 
in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An amazing state, huge, mountains, deserts, 
snakes, spiders, sunshine, snow, cacti with arms sticking out, roadrunners, 
cowboys with pickup trucks and real native American Indians. Then we moved 
to Ireland where everything is green and ...moist.
12.  Tell us something about the poetry group for women you belong to, 
Poetry Divas, please?   What some of common themes do you see among the 
poets in the group?   Do you support each other emotionally as well as in 
terms of work?    If you were to read 100 short poems, and half were by men 
and half women, do you think you could pick the sex of the author above 60 
percent of the time?
The Poetry Divas are well published poets in our own right. We perform our 
own poetry but it is not enough for us that a poem works well out loud, it 
has to also work well on the page. We craft and recraft to get it right. We 
learn a lot from performing, I think. A poem can get a good reaction one 
night with one audience and another night, the atmosphere is completely 
different. We have learnt to read the room.
We wear tiaras and feather boas. The idea being to read in places and to 
people who wouldn’t hear much poetry, who would be resistant. The idea being 
that it they are looking at our sparkly outfits, maybe they’ll listen too. 
We have had people come up to us after events saying they hadn’t heard any 
poetry since school and that they’d been surprised how much they enjoyed it. 
Also, there is a tendency for spoken word events to be biased towards men 
and we like to redress the balance somewhat.
Identifying the gender of a poet is hit and miss. I suspect that less 
experienced poets who be more identifiable by their subject matter but as a 
trained scientist, I’d need to see some statistically significant studies to 
know for sure.
13.  It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, as you do 
from UCD, some with PhDs.  Education is a great thing but is there a 
negative side to this, will it produce  in few years a literary culture 
where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published.   Will the day 
of the amateur writer without any formal literary training be a thing of the 
past soon, if it is not already so?  Often I see reviews, especially of 
American short story writers saying the writers work is standard University 
of Iowa writing-I don’t know what this means but it sounds like writers are 
being forced into standards acceptable to professors of creative writing.
I don’t have any writing qualifications. I would love to do an MA but I don’t 
have the money and I work full time with a family and mortgage to support so 
it’s out of the question for me. I have done various workshops and courses 
and I definitely recommend them for writers when they are starting out. 
After some time though, I wonder what they can offer that you haven’t heard 
before. There is a danger that students write to please their tutors or 
their fellow workshop students and that is a recipe for everyone writing the 
same. No one wants that. You have to find your own voice, not ventriloquise 
other writers. I think that’s what they mean by standard University of Iowa 
writing. I wonder is it more prevalent in the US than in Europe?
But teaching keeps many full times writers in employment and writers have to 
eat. They in turn inevitably can end up promoting upcoming writers who write 
they way they do. It’s like interviewers picking the interviewee who is most 
like themselves.
I have to believe though that original voices from writers without formal 
training still cut through the slushpiles and gatekeepers. And will continue 
to do so. You have to be an optimist to edit magazines and organise 
competitions and readings and that passion for writing is what keeps us all 
reading, writing and submitting.
14.   What is your reaction to these lines from Susan Cahill about the 
beauty of Ireland-”There is a hopelessness that a glut of natural beauty can 
create when there is a cultural and intellectual morass”.  Is the beauty of 
Ireland is two edged comes from nowhere and changes everything be over 
because of this?
All I have read about Ireland and all the images I have seen on the net 
present a country of amazing beauty.  How much does this saturation in 
natural beauty impact the writing of the country   Does it inspire and 
defeat at the same time?
I’m not sure I follow what she means. Too much natural beauty stunts 
creativity? I don’t think so. Ireland is made up of lots of sorts of spaces, 
some beautiful, some not so much but if you look hard enough, there is 
beauty in everything. Why would that defeat anyone or anything?
15. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular
poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of 
Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons”. I see a similarity of 
this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, 
they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the 
Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by the 
Spanish or American rulers. How do you think the fact Yeats is alluding too, 
assuming you agree, has shaped Irish literature.   It is interesting to me 
that the American short story writers most admired by Irish writers, like 
Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter all came from the 
American south, the only part of American to be crushed in a war.   Does 
defeat bring wisdom more than victory?
Save me from another popular song about emigrating because of the famine and 
leaving mammy behind. And enough of the gloomy, wretched Irish family 
stories with weak fathers (see above) gritty, sexually repressed mammies, 
loads of snot-ridden downtrodden children, whiskey, abusive, meglomaniac 
priests and taking the boat. Certainly there are stories of defeats 
throughout Irish history but there’s a lot to celebrate now. Get over it and 
uplift me!
16.  Aosdana?  to many it seems a mystery?  Is it the best use of Ireland’s 
funds to promote literature?  is it closed in Elitism?  Some of the members 
are super big name writers, do they get a subsidy from the government?  Of 
course if they decide one day to admit book bloggers based in the 
Philippines to membership I will say it is the greatest thing in the world 
but is it really also a way for the government to buy the silence of 
writers?  Samuel Johnson said a pension was pay for a traitor from his 
government for committing treason, but when offered one he took it.  On the 
other hand are those who repudiate it just jealous?
Aosdana appears from the outside at least to be an old boys’ club, biased 
towards establishment figures and an unbalanced representation of Ireland’s 
artistic communities. Last week the members voted in 3 more men. Plus ca 
change. The 250 members get a stipend to continue doing what they do. There 
are some who believe that as it is a government handout, the members do play 
politic somewhat but I’m not so sure this is the case. It’s more to do with 
the human factor that people tend to hire or vote in people who are like 
Of course I am jealous. I would love for someone to pay me to be a full time 
writer. I received a grant from the Arts Council and another from South 
Dublin County Council a couple of years ago which was so useful for me. 
Unless you have a patron, time for writing is so precious.
17. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or 
are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers.    I sometimes 
think poets can be seen as like the canaries in the coal mines of society, 
they feel the dangers first.  Are poets kind of like your early warning 
A social role? That’s a tough one. Probably no. I think poets and other 
artists should not feel they have to cover social issues, should not have to 
tick the politic boxes. Having said that though, poets don't and shouldn't 
live in a bubble. The effects of social change will filter out in their 
work. Even unintentionally. Also the readers will read it through their own 
filters and see parallels even when there are none.
But if poets were early warning systems, financial analysts would buy racks 
of contemporary poetry. I wish they did but I don’t think they do.
18. "To creative artists may have fallen the task of explaining what no 
historian has fully illuminated – the reason why the English came to regard 
the Irish as inferior and barbarous, on the one hand, and, on the other, 
poetic and magical."-is this right? Kiberd, Declan (2009-05-04). Inventing 
Ireland (p. 646).   It is interesting to me in that not to long ago many 
white Americans viewed African Americans as very skilled at music and 
dancing but otherwise inferior and barbaric.
History is written by the winners, in the case of Elizabethan history, that 
would be the English. I'm not sure the Elizabethans regarded any Irish as 
poetic and magical. Maybe the Victorians did. Actually the magical part is 
more likely to be the Irish diaspora who spread the tales to America and 
other destinations. All emigrants romanticise and elegise the places and the 
history or their origin. At least to outsiders. Maybe within their own 
families, within their own communities they are more likely to recognise the 
negative side of the places and people they left behind.
19.   Tell us a bit about your non-literary work experience please.   What 
does your diverse work experience bring to your work?
I am a total tech-head. Love numbers, computers etc. I worked in IT for years, in silicon chip plants, biopharma and insurance. 
Now I work in the techy side of reinsurance. Reinsurance, you may not know, 
is the sexy version insurance. I often work with words too. In fabs, for example, if you don't use precise and clear wording, 
people can get hurt. Sometimes I make my emails rhyme so it's a two way 
I have also taught creative writing in primary and secondary schools as well as to adults. I get a huge kick out of this and can't do it now as often as 
I would like because of time pressure. I always learn something new from my students, especially the kids. Their brains work differently. Anything is still possible.
20.  In his book The Commitments Roddy Doyle has a main character  say, 
as if it were something commonly seen as true, “The Irish are the niggers of 
Europe and Dubliners are the niggers of Ireland”.  There is a lot of self 
loathing expressed in Irish literary works from Joyce on down to Doyle.  Is 
this just a family fight where one might say something terrible about a 
father, mother or brother or wife and kill an outsider who says the same 
thing or is it really how people feel?  I do not see this level of self hate 
in other literatures.   There is nothing like it, for example, in the 
literature of the Philippines.  Talk a bit about how you feel or think about 
The Commitments  was set in 1980. Ireland was a different country then. Dublin 
was a very different city and Barrytown (Kilbarrack) was run down, full of 
unemployment and not surprising self loathing but always mixed in with gobs 
of self belief and lashings of humour. Is there self loathing in other 
literature? What about The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan 
Sillitoe or American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis? I don't think it's an 
Irish thing. Maybe a middle aged man thing?
21.   Please tell us how your time as a technical writer and your scientific 
education informs your writing.  In one of your readings you spoke of the 
perceived tensions between the sensibilities of a scientist and a poet-can 
these be combined or does society need both?
Science and especially physics I find amazing. Physicists are always looking 
for the most elegant solution to problems, which means beauty and 
simplicity. I love that the biggest stuff, astronomy, nebulas, galaxies, 
neutron stars, black holes, event horizons, reflect the smallest teeniest 
stuff, quarks, spins, leptons, photons, fields.
There is definitely more room for poetry in science and vice versa.
And technical writing just means using the right words in the right place. 
Concise, correct and unambiguous. Which is poetry. Except maybe the 
ambiguity. Poets love dual/treble/quadruple meanings for words.
22.   Have you attended literary workshops?  if so please share your 
experiences with us a bit.
I have attended quite a few workshops and courses over the years. I think I got more out of them earlier on. At this stage, I feel I have heard most things before. 
Show don't tell. Lose the first stanza. Titles should add something. There should be layers of meaning. Reading out loud is crucial.
The quality of the teaching is crucial. I have been to workshops with a Work in PRogress poems and come out with no suggestions to improve it. Bit of a waste of my time.
I am a member of two writing groups, which are great for feedback and for support. I recommend this to everyone. 
They are both more focused on fiction though so it anyone can point me to a Dublin based poetry one, let me know! 
24.   My brother and I will be making our first ever trip to Ireland in May 
so I am seeking a bit of advice-
a.  best place near Trinity University for fish and chips

b.  best place for a fairly priced pint

Probably a student bar in Trinity? But I'd recommend Keoghs on South Anne St for Guinness.
c.  best two museums

Totally depends what interests you. My favourites would be The Science Gallery (in Trinity) and the National Gallery.
d.  best non-chain book store

Gutterbook shop in Cows Lane, Temple Bar, BOoks Upstairs by Trinity and The Winding Stair on the quays by Hapenny Bridge..
e.  best place for good old fashioned Irish food?

Stumped. The 'Oirish food' restaurants are usually aimed at tourists and generally aren't much good.
Near Trinity hotel there's the Science Gallery cafe and The Grand Social on the quays does a good stew. 
The Winding Stair  is supposed to be good.

f.  best place to hear traditional Irish music?
There can be good bands in O'Donoghue's pub and the one across the street. Foleys is it?  But if you're visiting Co Clare,
there's a greater choice. 
24.   When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends or family, what do 
you miss the most?  what are you frankly glad to be away from for a while?

Outside of Ireland and the UK, has to be a good cup of tea, made in a teapot with boiling water.
Glad to be away from? Manky pub wine. Whinging and moaning about the state of the country, especially on RTE.
26.   If someone from outside of Ireland were to ask you what are the top 5 
or so contemporary Irish novels one should read to get a feel for the 
country, what would you advise them?
Kevin Barry short stories. Maybe the comedy novels Ross O'Carroll Kelly are close enough to the bone!
Marian Keyes covers quite a lot of ground. Don't let the frothy book covers put you off.
27.   an experiment for this question-, make up a question and answer it 
What are your hopes for 2013?

I hope to get a publisher to take on my poetry collection. And I'd like to finish my novel.

28.  I want to get much more into contemporary Irish poetry, I have read 
nearly nothing beyond Yeats, where do I start?  who are five essential 
modern poets?
Essential Modern Irish Poets? I wouldn't be an expert. Probably those on the school Leaving Cert,
Famous Seamus (Heaney)
Eavan Boland
Derek Mahon
Michael Hartnett and Patrick Kavanagh if you count poets who are dead.

Or more modern
Rita Ann Higgins, Dennis O'Driscoll, Paul Durcan,  
Paul Muldoon, Paula Meehan
29. Quick Pick Questions
a.  tablets or laptops?

b. dogs or cats

Cats - It's the self centreness.
c.  best way for you personally to relax when stressed?

Lie down with a G&T
d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?
All of the above. Someone else cooks and clears up?

e. RTE or BBC

f. Yeats or Whitman

g.  Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC-great for a quick break or American 
Other than the coffee, never go in.

h. night or day

for what? 
i  Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights?

Neither. Ruined by a bad English teacher.
j-best way to experience a new poem-hear the author read it or read it in a 
quiet undisturbed place?

Both, Read it with the poet reading it.
k.  favorite singer?

Bjork (today, tomorrow it would be a different answer)

l. Opera, country music, slow love songs, rock or does it depend on what 
kind of mood you are in?

Rock usually though I'm going to the Opera tonight.  

I offer my great thanks to Kate Dempsey for taking the time to provide us with such interesting answers.   I hope to follow her writing career as best I can.

Mel u

Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar (1995)

Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar (1942, Mumbai) was recently selected by The Guardian as one of the ten best novels set in Mumbai.  I like to read stories set in Mumbai. A lot of my readers live in Indian mega-cities.    Kathleen Boo, author of a brilliant work of non-fiction set in a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Flowers, is quoted on the webpage of the publisher, New York Review of Books, saying Raven and Eddie is "Wicked, magical, hilarious, enduring:  A masterpiece from one of the world literature's great cult writers".

Ravan and Eddie are from a vertical slum in Mumbai, Eddie is Catholic and Ravan is Hindu.  Ravan and Eddie is a vivid, at times almost too much so, look at growing up poor in modern Mumbai.  We see terrible ways people suffer, the abuse of women and Dalits that is taken for granted, the day to day struggles just to survive, the many class markers, and we learn a good bit of history along the way.   Eddie's family became Catholic long ago during the period in which Portugal ruled Mumbai and had a colony in Goa.    We see the influence of religion and how it divides people.  In one very powerful scene Eddie's family priest found how he went to a Hindu religious observation and subjects him to tremendous mental abuse over this.

There is lots of x-rated sex in this story, most of it either abusive or part of a power struggle in  one way or another.  In one very graphically told episode, we see the oral rape of Eddie at age 13 or so by an older boy at his school.   Life in the chawl where the novel is set is totally corrupt.  There is no one to admire in this work.  One of the women  in the novel says that poverty takes everyone's integrity if they endure it long enough.   

This is a really good novel.  I was pondering how I might compare it to another, better, novel set in Mumbai which I recently read, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  The people in Ravan and Eddie are less fully developed than those in A Fine Balance but maybe it is hard to fully develop when you grow up in extreme poverty and your mother is a prostitute and your father a drunken wastrel.  The people in Ravan and Eddie are without human dignity, those in A Fine Balance, have some left.

Ravan and Eddie is a wild ride, I never knew what would happen next but I was kept reading with great anticipation.   Life in this story is ugly with little to look forward to but more misery.  

This is a funny, wise, and entertaining book.  

KIRAN NAGARKAR was born in Bombay in 1942. In addition to plays and screenplays, he has written five novels, establishing his reputation as an outstanding representative of contemporary Indian literature. His books are a target of ideological critique due to the hybrid nature of his version of postcolonialism, involving irreverence alongside seriousness. 

Nagarkar studied at the Ferguson College in Bombay and then worked as an assistant professor at some colleges, as a journalist and screenplay writer, and, notably, in the advertising industry. He wrote his first book Saat Sakkam Trechalis (1974; Eng. Seven Sixes are Forty Three, 1980) in his mother tongue, Marathi. His bitter and burlesque description of the young Bombayite Kunshank - achieved by means of a fragmented form and rendered in innovative language - is considered to be a milestone in Marathi literature. In his first play Bedtime Story (1978), Nagarkar takes on the subject of modern responsibility by broaching the topic of political crises of the day (for instance the Cuban Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the State of Emergency called for by Indira Gandhi). 

Mel u

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Things You Should Know by John MacKenna (2006, 280 pages)

John MacKenna is the author of seventeen books – short stories, novels, memoir, history and biography. He is a winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award; the C Day Lewis Award; the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and his most recent novel, The Space Between Us, was short-listed for the Kerry Book of the Year Award. His books have been translated into several languages. He is also a winner of a Jacob’s Radio Award for his documentary work with the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. He teaches in NUI Maynooth.

I am very happy to be able to let my readers know of a wonderful very wise book by John MacKenna, Things You Should Know, which is a memoir that centers on what it means to be a father and a son.  During Irish short story month, I asked 80 writers, taking my lead from Declan Kiberd, if the theme of the weak or missing father was a dominating one in modern Irish literature (Kiberd claims it is).  The answers ranged from yes for sure this is right, to it is one of the themes to those who said this might have been true once but Irish writers have moved on from this theme to broader social issues.  A father can be missing without being weak.  He can be making huge sacrifices to work offshore or for that matter he might have died when his children were still young.   MacKenna shows us a strong, wise, self-aware man missing from his children's lives because of the breakup of his marriage to their mother.  No one seems at fault, no one is a monster, the couple just drifted  apart.   

One of the thing that makes this book so special is we see the man trying to remain a force in his children' lives and we also see flash backs to his relationship with his own father.   One of the stereotypes or maybe a simple truth found in Irish literature is the working out of the consequences of the emotional reticence of the culture and MacKenna deals with this in a very subtle fashion.   

The story is very set in place in county Kildare, Ireland.  MacKenna clearly has a deep love for Kildare and it shows in the many small details.  I thought his remarks about the "corner men" were really illuminating and they helped me understand more about Irish culture.   

The prose is beautiful, at times lyrical.  I am very glad I read this book.   If you are a father, I have three daughters, it will make you reflect on how you conduct yourself.

I will soon be reading and posting on some of the short stories in his collection, The River Field.   

Mel u

This Is The Way by Gavin Corbett (2012)

Irish Novel of the Year 2013

This Is The Way by Gavin Corbett won the Irish Novel of the Year Prize at this year's Listowel Writers' Week.   The 15,000 Euro prize is the largest one available to only Irish authors.   I have been very interested in Irish Travellers since I first became aware of their
culture through reading the short stories of Desmond Hogan so when I read the glowing review by Kevin Barry on this book in The Guardian and learned it was told from the point of view of a young Traveller man hiding in the poor areas of Dublin from members of a rival clan, I knew I wanted to read it soon.   The clan fight has been going on for generations.   

Anthony has the blood of both clans, his mother was a Gillaroo and his father a member of the enemy clan, the Sonaghans.   To make matters worse his half crazy uncle Arthur shows up, also on the run from something or other.   He lost one of his thumbs in an accident and the doctors replaced it with one of his big toes.

The novel is told as a series of adventures, some plausible, some crazy and they are told in what I am assuming is a Traveller version of Hibernian- English dialect, which in this case, I really enjoyed.   

Dublin is a strange place to Anthony and it is fun to discover it through his eyes.  Anthony and Arthur have some contact with an academic woman doing oral histories which is an interesting side plot.   One of the funniest parts of the books was when Anthony goes with Judith to a high end literary party.   

I enjoyed this book a lot and I am very glad I read it.   I really liked it when I found some important Traveller myths revolve around Lough Melvin. 

Gavin Corbett

Gavin Corbett

Gavin Corbett was born in the west of Ireland and grew up in Dublin, where he studied History at Trinity College.   He lives in New York.

Mel u

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Barcelona" by Mary Costello (2013)

My Q and A with Mary Costello

I was very glad to see that Kevin Barry included a story by Mary Costello, author of  China Factory, in his just published collection, Town and Country - New Irish Short Stories.   I intend to read all of the twenty stories in the collection, thirteen of which are by new to me writers.    I previously posted on an excellent story by William Wall from the collection.

Frank O'Connor said the short story is the perfect form to explore loneliness, which can take a multitude of forms.    "Barcelona" is about an unmarried couple on vacation in Spain.  The woman wants to see the grave of Lorca, a poet killed by the fascists in the civil war.  I understood this as one of my goals in a recent trip to Ireland with my brother was to visit the grave of William Butler Yeats.

One very hard to bear at times form of loneliness comes from knowing that those you are seemingly closest to do not share your deepest concerns.  The woman in the story once had a relationship with a very troubled man who was deeply concerned about animal rights and suffering.   The woman shares these views even though her current boyfriend does not and almost mocks them.  Some of the images in this story are very vivid and may make you cringe a bit if you eat a meat centered diet.   The story goes back into the woman's past where she recalls her father, who took wonderful care of his animals, leading his cows to be slaughtered.   She sees the world as a great slaughter house.   There is much more to this wonderful story and I hope you will one day have the pleasure of reading it.

Mel u

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Ministry (1995, 614 pages)

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a very powerful deeply sad novel set, though the city is not named,  in Mumbai, from 1974 to 1984.   This is a magnificent book that takes us deeply into lives of people caught up in the turmoil and incredible corruption of India.   This is a grand novel in the tradition of the great works of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo.  It focuses on the interconnected lives of several families, from relatively affluent to the poorest castes of citizens.   Much of the novel  deals with social issues arising from the very deep embedding of the caste system in India.  Two of the central characters come from what is commonly called an untouchable caste whose members had the job by custom  of removing and using the bodies of dead animals, mostly cows to make leather.  We see the terrible hardships under which they live, the incredible cruelties they must accept.  Two of the untouchables, Dalits, are apprenticed at a young age to become tailors, a huge leap for them.   We follow their lives and get to know them well.   

This is a grim dark world, at every turn something terrible happens to people we have come to like.  Anyone with any money lords it over those with less.  We meet lots of people we hate, , some turn out to be more human than we thought.  We learn of the terrible world of beggars and we meet a character that makes Fagin seem like a very  kind social worker, the Beggermaster.  There is some happiness in the novel found through bonds formed but it is all fragile and subject to the caprices of some very cruel Gods.   

This is a very rich beautifully written novel.   The characters are very real.  Parts of the novel are truly heartbreaking.  The ending is totally devastating in its absurdity and in the sense it conveys that life is barely worth enduring.   This is a great novel, though don't read it if you are in a dark place in your life.

I previously read and enjoyed the author's Family Matters.   A Fine Balance is by far the superior of the two works.   If you go on Amazon you will find lots of glowing five star reviews of this book.  A few people do say it  is melodramatic at times and relies on coincidence a lot but then again so do Dickens and Hugo.  Some reviewers have said his work has the social scope of Tolstoy but I do think that is going to far.  I would place this on a lifetime reading list were I to prepare one.

I hope to read his A Long Journey soon.

Mel u

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Landing by Emma Donoghue (2007)

Landing by Emma Donoghue (1969, Dublin) is a romance novel centering on a 39 year old air hostess of Indian and Irish parentage living in Dublin and a much younger Canadian woman from a small town in Ontario named "Ireland".   The Canadian woman is the curator of a small regional history museum.    

The story starts out on an international flight from Toronto to London.   The seat mate of the Canadian woman dies in flight and the air hostess deals with the death and helps the woman cope in a version of the "cute meet" of future lovers.  We see their relationship develop through e mail.  The story centers on the nature of long distance relationships. 

What I liked best about this  novel was the settings in Dublin and seeing how the air hostess (don't dream of calling them "stews") viewed her work.  There is some sex in the novel but it is mild stuff. There are some interesting scenes about gay life in Dublin.   The male minor gay characters are a bit one dimensional.

This is a well written book that might be good light reading on a long flight.   

Mel u