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

Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 - A Look at the month on The Reading Life

March was dominated by the forth year of Irish Short Story Month.  (I will continue with that in April). Several authors contributed excellent Q and A sessions and short stories. I am very grateful to them.   More are coming.

Books I posted on

1.  Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
2.  They Were Found Wanting by Milkos Banfky.
3.  The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry
4.  Censors at Work:  How States Shape Literature by Robert Darnton
5.  Penelope Fitzgerald - A Life by Hermione Lee
6.  Out of the Ruins by Sue Guiney.

Books I read but did not post on
1.  Emma by Jane Austin.
Plus two books on improving your writing style in fiction
2.  The First Draft by John Casey
3. A Life in Sentences by Jenny Davidson 

I also continued reading  more short stories.

My blog has 3288 Twitter Followers.  In March I had 102,572 hits, since inception, 2,567,815. There are 2127 published posts.  

Top Countries are

Most viewed posts  continues to be those on older short stories from the Philipines, followed by posts on Katherine Mansfield and R. K. Narayan.

I offer my humble thanks to all commentators and contributors. I thank the authors and publishers for the free books.  

Mel u. 


"The Lost Seed" by Emma Donoghue (2012)

I liked the Emma Donoghue story, "The Gift", which posted on two days ago that I decided to read the remaining story by her in the same anthology.  Like "The Gift" it is historical fiction set in the United States.  "Lost Seed" takes place in the first Puritan colonies, the school in America version of these colonies is that they came seeking religious freedom.  The more complicated truth is that they wanted the freedom to practice terrible religious oppression and the right to impose their sexual morals on all others.  Deviation from the rules often meant death.  

The story is told in the very well realized person of an unmarried man who totally believes in the rigid sexual laws of the colony.    He desperately wants a wife but the women, girls to us, either do not suit him or don't want him.   He has turned in several people to the authorities for real or imagined sexual acts he has seen them doing while looking in their windows.  He wants them banned or executed.  Soon no one will speak to him.  

I won't spoil the perfect ending of this story for you.  I read this story and "The Gift" in this high value anthology.

Mel u

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"The House of Mourning" by Desmond Hogan A look at page one and two after reading "Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes

 " in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author." - Roland Barthes.

Shauna Gilligan Lead Article for The Reading Life Desmond Hogon Project


I have been reading Desmond Hogan for two years now.  I take his work very seriously.  I was first introduced to his work by Shauna Gilligan, PhD, author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  Through her kindness I met Hogan in May of last year, at the office of Lilliput Press.  We spoke of two authors for whom we share great admiration, Nathaneal West and Zora Hurston, among other things.  

Recently I read two very historically important articles partially devoted to the primacy of the reader 
over the writer. Roland Barthes in "The Death of the Author" set off a war still being fought in the academy.   Susan Sontag, I have previously ponderd where Hogan would fall in her tripartite analyses of serious art, was some what a disciple of French deconstructivists and her classic essay "Against Iterpretation" can be seen as an expansion of the ideas of Barthes.  I have said over and over I am treating Hogan's work as found objects, as a reader I am not interested in him as a person.  This is not a slight but my highest mark of respect.  I also will at times treat his corpus as a single object.  In the school of literary analyses of Barthes and Sontag, the most philistine of blunders are to search for a meaning, to try to discern the author's intent or to reverse engineer his stories as autobiography,  to see a real difference in form and content.  Of course literary overriding theories cannot be, nor need they be, evaluated as true or false but as useful or not.  If we follow Sontag, and repudiate the interpretation of the stories of Hogan, as I think we should, what can someone who writes about them or teaches them have to offer us? I will arrogantly try begin to partially answer that question.

In this post, I will, mostly for me, look at the use if nouns in page one of Hogan's "The House of Mourning".  I think we can see how this, and others of his stories, work to invoke lives and lived worlds.

Here are nouns, proper and common on the first page of this thirteen page story.  I will attempt to comment on how I think they function in the mechanics and structure  of "The House of Mourning". I think images in Hogan's work invoke picture in our act of reading and force us to make often deep and far reaching cultural connections.  

Hadrian's Wall- this is the first proper noun in the story.  As I pondered why, I thought of a colonial invasion that destroyed an ancient culture but spared Ireland.  I quickly learned from other proper nouns on page one this was a set in Ireland story.  You must reflect at this point that the Roman militaristic culture that destroyed a tribal society helped create a mentality in England that would colonize and rob for centuries another tribal society, Ireland.  The wall was designed to keep out barbarians an

Irish Place Names-  I think these serve to geo-locate the stories and may carry a cultural weight I am not fully deified upon - Shannon Estuary, the Shannon near a holy river.  Limerick City- a place now one of the biggest strongholds of the Irish language.  Traveller Boys- I have talked a good bit about how I see the references to Travellers function in Hogan's stories.  

Animals- The Mink - I did a bit of research on the mink in Ireland.  I saw there are serious controversies about mink farming, minks eating salmon eggs, and the rights of an ancient animal to run free.  

geese- clearly meant to invoke freedom, the ancient flight of the Geese.

Arabian Horses- I think this is meant to give us a sense of wild beauty, perhaps that can be controlled by the Irish and it brings to mind Galway Horse Markets

Out of Ireland Geographic references
Barbados -  in Irish history this brings up the transportation of the Irish to work as slaves on British plantations.  
Canada-  an image of a better life?  An emigrants home that is not America?  
European- an older deeper culture than the English? 

Common nouns

Little girls- is this meant to invoke innocence with them on Pogo Sticks?  This is, to me, a very ambiguous reference.  For now I will let it stand for itself.

There are a lot of what might call catalogues of debris in Hogan's stories and there is an important set of common nouns devoted to this.  

Ladies Sling Shoes, statues of herons and a life  size plastic statue of a horse are among the trash.

So we begin page one with a reference to Hadrian's Wall, heavily frought with associations and end it with references to kitsch statues and shoes designed to mishape the natural carriage of a woman.

I will do similar posts on more pages.  In the next post on this story I will ponder what we can use from Sontag's "Against Iterpretation".  I might also ponder if her claims make sense if pressed or should we just,which is not a criticism, see how they can help us in our reading of Hogan.

Of course in treating stories as do those in the Barthes tradition do, as found objects we do assume they are in English, the words have common associations, a human wrote them etc so we are already interpreting when we start.  

Upon completion of my posts on this story, I will combine my posts into one and perhaps draw some conclusions on the ideas of Barthes and Sontag.  After all they are dead.  Sontag knows she is sort of rhetorically protected from challenges as to question her is to do the forbidden by the saints of modern literary studies, act of finding a meaning in what she says.  

Page two

Continuing on with this project here are some of the nouns from page two.  Latter on in this post I will talk a bit about how i am trying to apply the methods of Eric Auerbach to this story, how I am attempting to delve into the mechanics of this story.  I accept much of the import of the notion of the death of the author.  This does not mean we cannot attempt to see creative methods and values in the story, only that that is our source.   I have talked before about the many seemingly off cultural references in the corpus of Hogan.  Learning from Edward Said and Auerbach I think we can see how Hogan's method deviates but derives from deeply cultured methods of European masters from Homer to Proust.  

North Limerick - closer geo locating

Sulky - Irish horse tradition

Tittuping Scarlett - a description of a horse, 

Mushrooms- earth food

Cinereous mare's tale- description of a woman hair as if it were from a horse

Place references-  Kerry, North Shannon

Druids- ancient Ireland - half myth half real

St Patrick

Richard Edwards- music star who disappeared 

Welsh Ladies' house.  Closed in reference

Marlene Dietrich - androngeounes dominating German actress.    



Saturday, March 29, 2014

"The Gift" by Emma Donoghue (2012)

I have previously read and posted on several short stories by Emma Donoghue (Dublin, 1969) and her novel about an Air India hostess, Landings.  I was very happy to find two of her short stories included in an anthology of short stories I have. 

"The Gift" is a an epistolatory short story.  This is not a format one sees much at all so I was very curious to read the story.  It begins in March 1877 in New York City, a single mother writers a letter to a children's home telling them her heart breaks but she must give them custody of her daughter for whom she cannot care.  I was fascinated by the letters from the home to the mother in which we could see the daughter slowly develop.   We also can follow the life of the mother as she marries and tries to get her daughter back.  A wonderful loving couple on a farm in Iowa adopt the girl and we see her develop.   There is great sadness in the story as we see the great pain in the letters of her mother but the great gift of true asking for nothing in return love given to the daughter by her adoptive parents was deeply moving.  

I have a copy of her historical novel Slammerkin and I hope to read it soon.  

Mel u

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)

This is my first time ever to read Muriel Spark's very famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  I have seen the movie several times on cable so I knew the general plot line of a teacher at a private school  in pre-WW Two  Scotland, sympathetic to the Fascists in Italy and Hitler in the early years whose teaching methods were unconventional.  Every year she would select a few pupils as "her girls" and try to truly educate them.  To me part of the immense pleasure in reading this very insightful and at times hilarious novel was in seeing how Miss Brodie's girls perceived her and especially her relationships with two male teachers.  I think part of my enjoyment of this book arose from my having three daughters and wondering how they would react to Miss Brodie.  This is not a long book, the prose is a consistent delight, the satire is really well done and the characters are marvelously developed.  I am so glad I have at last read this book.

I was given a free review copy.

Mel u

"The Sound of Swallows" by Shauna Gilligan, PhD (from The Stinging Fly, Spring, 2014)

""They've gone and what's left of them is made of twigs and mud: nests empty and useless".

I first became acquainted with the work of Shauna Gilligan during Irish Short Story Month Year Two.  since then I have posted on a number of her short stories and her wonderful debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  At her suggestion I first began to read the work of Desmond Hogan and she did a very illuminating post on him for my blog.  She has also done a very interesting and informative Q and A I urge all to read.  

Today I want to post briefly on her very powerful short story, "The Sound of Swallows" which can be found in the Spring 2014 issue of The Stinging Fly.  The Stinging Fly is a leading world class publisher of literary works.  

As I read on in Irish literature I see more and more, of course people see what they can and want to see, certain pervasive themes recurring over and over.  An obsession with, almost a love, for death, not so much one's own, but that of those we love.  Only when a person is dead does the fluidity of our experience of them come to an end.  I also see a fascination with cycles of futility, recurring pain and loss whose only value maybe in the wisdom gained from observing them.  I also see a strong pattern of works depicting the impact of repressed emotions blocking relationships growing beyond limited starts, relationships that long term bring mostly pain. I also see as a strong theme that of the weak or missing father married to a smothering mother.  I see, learning from Edward Said and his disciple Declan Kiberd, a working out of the legacy of colonialism. These are not just old ideas from long ago. I read this week Sebastian Barry's forthcoming novel, The Temporary Gentleman and these themes dominate it.     All of this can be seen in Gilligan's five page "The Sound of Swallows".

The story is being published today in The Stinging Fly.  I am not inclined too much to recap the plot but I will just talk a bit about how it exemplifies the themes I have spoken about above and numerous times.  The story covers some twenty years in the life of the woman narrating the story. First her father dies from cancer at which point her mother throws her temporarily out of the house, only to become dependent on the daughter.  The narrator had a mildly sexual relationship with another woman, Maribel when in her late teens.  The narrator conceives a child in a one night encounter with what seems a very decent man to whom she gave a false phone number.  The man is forced into the role of unknown missing father in the life of the child.  Then her mother dies. After a twenty year hiatus, she moved it seems to Denver, Maribel returns.  The narrator tries to see in her the beauty she once had.  Beauty lost is one of Ireland's grand themes.   The ending is profoundly sad.  The close powerfully sums up the themes I have ruminated upon.

my q and a with Shauna Gilligan 

My post on Happiness Comes from Nowhere

I hope to read much more of Gilligan.  I strongly endorse her novel, which I think may become a classic. 

Mel u


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry (2014)


The Temporary Gentleman is  story of the life of an Irishman who serves as an officer in the British Army during World War Two, hence making him a temporary gentleman.  This is the second book by Barry I have had the great pleasure of reading.  Last November I read and posted on his set partially in a Sligo mental hospital, The Secret Scripture.  Maybe by a slight margin I preferred The Temporary Gentleman but for sure I endorse reading both of them. 

John "Jack" McNulty is in Accra, Ghana, 1957, working as an observer for the United Nations.   He is desperately trying to write his life story.  He was a bomb disposal officer during WWII and since then had worked as an observer for the U.N, mostly in Ghana.  The Temporary Gentleman is another story of the Irishman as a weak and missing father, both he and the love of his life, wife and mother of his neglected children are badly addicted to alcohol.  The character of the wife, Mai from Sligo, is at the heart of the novel.  Jack's love for her coupled with his inability to understand her, are masterfully shown to us.  She is a tragic character, her life destroyed by alcohol.  

To me, The Temporary Gentleman is very much a post colonial novel about the weak father, about lives destroyed by drink, about Irish perceptions of another post colonial world in Ghana.  Jack orientalizes the residents of Ghana with whom he has contact, much as the English did the Irish. 
I hope to reread this book one day.

I was given a free review copy of this book.

Mel u

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Joy and the Law" by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1961, translation forthcoming by Stephen Twilley, 2014)

In the last few months I have been reading in the works of the great European Aristocrats of 20th century literature.  Among writers like Stefan Zweig, Gregor Von Rozzi, Joseph Roth, Marcel Proust, and his fellow Italian, Curzio Malaparte must be counted Giuseppe Lampedusa, author of The Leopord.  I was recently very kindly given The Professor and the Siren by The New York Review of Books, a collection of three short works of fiction by Lampedusa, translated by Stephen Twilley, to be published later this year.  One of the selections, "Joy and the Law" was less than ten pages long so I decided I should make that my first Lampodusa experience. 

"Joy and the Law" opens on a bus with a clerk in a law office on the way home from work.  He has just gotten his annual Christmas bonus.  Lampedusa does a masterful job of letting us feel the difficult struggle to live that the clerk and his wife have.  This bonus, pretty substantial for him, will pay his past due rent and allow his wife to settle a lot of market bills.  I really liked the description of the apartment building in which they live.  You can feel the quiet desperation.  His boss is a haughty former fascist official.  Though either merit or an act of pity, he won an award as best employee of the year, a giant cake.  He and his wife get in a fight over what to do with the cake.  He wants the family to enjoy it on Christmas Day, she says he must give it to an attorney who sometimes hires him for extra work.  There is some funny and telling family drama over the cake.

"Joy and the Law" for sure left me wanting to read more Lampodusa.  I will start with the two forty or so page works in this collection and the hopefully get to his master work, The Leopard.  Please share your experience with the author with us. 

Mel u

Monday, March 24, 2014

"The Collector" a short story by Dave Lordan's author of The First Book of Frags

Today I am very happy to be able to share with my readers a short story by Dave Lordan.  I first became acquainted with his work when I read his The First Book of Frags.  Here are some of my thoughts on it.

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 seem 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.   

My post on The First Book of Frags is here

The Collector

By Dave Lordan

A few weeks after the artist’s so-called stroke a collector came to the rehabilitation unit to parley.

I have been collecting you for thirty-two years, the collector said, since the very beginning. 

The collector opened a briefcase and took out his several items, laying them out carefully on the coffee table for the purposes of display. He was aiming to jog the artist’s memory of who he was before the stroke and return him to self-consciousness and the living world.

The artist had not yet recovered his tongue. His hands were paralyzed. The medics assumed he had completely forgotten who he was.  

The collector read from index cards to explain each item as he was going along:

Identifying Item A: Cassette tape, tape decayed and unplayable, label in faded and indecipherable red biro. Belonging to the late 70’s ‘early juvenilia’ era. Retrieved from hired skip in 1999. Indicating known interest in ‘alternative’ popular music of the time. Also evidence of famed early proclivity towards bohemian criminal activities, many now legal, and knowledge of/employment of alternative distribution channels. Traces of seventeen people’s DNA on the cassette tape, seven females, ten males. Small traces also of sperm, shit, menstrual blood.

The artist wanted to tell him that he had never been a bohemian, that that was a middle-class, city-dwellers thing. He was always a punk of the outskirts. The songs he liked - especially when he was pissed - were angry, not maudlin,. He didn’t smoke his drugs buzz either. He snorted it, like a good little punk.

Identifying Item B: Shard from a pint-bottle of Harp Lager. Circa 1981. Reputed to be from the bottle which held subject’s first ever alcoholic drink. Of importance because of later descent into stage three alcoholism, the experience of which forms basis for first successful works. Purchased from subject’s mother in The Bernard Shaw.

It was in fact the artist’s aunty, a premium dipso, posing as his mother to get herself stood free drinks in a bar where she had sniffed out a gullible artsy crowd. At the time She had been reported missing in her adopted home-sty of Dudley, where she had not been seen for a week. But the artist couldn’t tell the collector this.

Identifying Item C: Photograph of badly-built Snowman. In an interview subject described this photograph as his ‘aesthetic manifesto’. Subject said that the true subject of the photograph was ‘my first serious girlfriend with whom I was very much in love at the time. She is in the photograph, but she is invisible within it. She is hidden behind the snowman, her near-perfect beauty concealed and disfigured by the snowbeing’s shoddy and disintegrating facade. In my work I foreground ugliness in order to shelter beauty. The conditions are not right in our time for the revelation of beauty. We must wait, so that when we do uncover beauty, it will not be immediately  appropriated and therefore inverted and destroyed. To throw the beauty-hunters off, beauty must be concealed behind a show of rottenness. Those artists who reveal beauty in our era are offering it up for sacrifice. In Byzantium, where I live, such artists are considered traitors and will be tried as such when the time comes’. Photograph taken in Cummer Graveyard January 1987. Donation to the collection from Author.

Even if he could have told the collector, the artist would not have told him that every fancy aesthetic statement he ever made was just ad copy for himself. He was aping those who gave good interview, as it seemed such an integral part of success.  In the art-world you can talk like you are out of your tree all time and get admired for it instead of avoided or locked up. The artist was as loquaciously insincere on art as he was on anything else.  He could believe in nothing, yet, with his eloquence, could express almost everything. 

The paradox of consciousness: there is knowledge but nothing to know. The paradox of language: there are words but there is nothing to say. 

Identifying Item D. Medical Report from Mater Private Hospital 2011. Clean bill of health save two minor items. Hypertension, for which 5mg Ramillo has been prescribed and is being near-effective. And a slightly overactive thyroid gland, leading to occasional diarrhea, agitation, anxiety and low-level weight loss. Thyroid to be monitored every six months. Doctor’s signature indecipherable. Stolen by a hospital porter, an obsessive fan of the subject. Later retrieved by Gardai. Then misplaced by Gardai. Bought by private treaty from nightclub bouncer on Leeson Street.

It’s fake, the artist silently shouts at the collector. The police are country’s most sophisticated thieves and counterfeiters. How can he not know that? Every painting in the national gallery was painted by a cop. The real ones are stored in Barbados, and  sold off at secret billionaire auctions in Trinidad.

Identifying Item E...

But at this stage the nurse intervened by announcing it was time for rest and meds and for the collector to leave. As she opened the room door to usher him out the artist saw that there was a queue of collectors as long as an x-factor audition in Blanchardstown waiting to offer up  excreta of the artist’s existence, in the hope of being the one who could claim to have found the key piece that put him back together again. Imagine what that piece would be worth at auction? 

The artist wondered how long he would have to wait for the collector with whom the arrangement had been made to arrive in. To this collector he would suddenly and rapturously speak his memory, his hyper-inflating sentences of miracle recovery.

He was proud, and felt a kind of haughty pity for the collector he had just seen, and pity for all the other ignoramuses in the hall. Surely some among them would eventually realise that it was the artist who had been collecting them all along.

This story is protected under international copyright and cannot be published in any format without the approval of the author.


Dave Lordan is a writer, editor and creative writing workshop leader based in Dublin who has been shaking up the irish writing scene with his passionate, risk-taking writing since the early noughties. He is the first writer to win Ireland’s three national prizes for young poets, the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2005, the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award in 2008 and the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award in 2011 for his collections The Boy in The Ring and Invitation to a Sacrifice, both published by Salmon. In 2010 Mary McEvoy starred in his debut play Jo Bangles at the Mill Theatre, directed by Caroline FitzgeraldWurm Press published his acclaimed short fiction debut First Book of Frags in 2013. Also in 2013, in association with RTÉ Arena and New Island Books, he designed and led Ireland’s first ever on-air creative writing course. He also edited the anthology New Planet Cabaret in association with RTÉ Arena and New Island books, as well as Issue 22 of The Stinging Fly, Ireland’s leading literary magazine, for which he is a contributing editor.  He is also co-prose editor of the transgenre experimental arts website He recently designed and led the Heart in Mouth community writing festival in association with Fingal Libraries, and the Wraparound perfomance poetry and creative literacy programme in Irish secondary schools in association with Poetry Ireland and the JCSP school libraries programme. He teaches contemporary poetry and critical theory on the MA in poetry studies in the Mater Dei Institute as well as providing teacher training courses in Teaching Creativity there and elsewhere. He teaches a workshop in experimental fiction for the Irish Writers Centre and creative writing for Co Wicklow VEC and the Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin. Alongside creative collaborator Karl Parkinson, he makes up the popular performance poetry duo Droppin The Act and he is a renownedly passionate performer of his own work which he continues to read at festivals and venues in Ireland, England, Italy and Canada. Follow him @vadenadrol

My Q and A with Dave Lordan

My great thanks to Dave Lordan for his contribution to ISSM4.


"The Star Child" by Oscar Wilde (1888)

The cultural importance of Oscar Wilde is immense.  He is world wide an Iconic figure whose Portrait of  Dorian Gray (1890) and The Importance of Being Ernest helped create the Camp sensibility.   If you have not read his two most famous works, then try to do so as soon as you can.  I first read Portrait of Dorian Gray maybe fifty years ago and I still remember thinking how marvelous it must be to know people who actually talk like that.  I never dreamed I would one day reread it in fifty years.   I so wish I had a fifty year old blog post to look back on.  One of the truest rewards to younger bloggers will, I hope, be this ability.  My understanding of Wilde has been greatly informed by my reading of Declan Kiberd's chapter on his work, "Oscar Wilde - The Irishman as Artist" in Declan Kiberd's Inventing Ireland -  The Literature of the Modern Nation.  

Wilde wrote a lot of short works of fiction, some in the style of fairy tales.  I have posted over the years on several of them.  "The Star Child" was a great pleasure to read.  It is accurate to call it a fairy tale written to be read by children with a moral lesson as its main point.  It does manifest some of the main themes of Wilde's more important works (I am not sure that without the main works his fairy tales would still be much read).  It deals with the nature of beauty, one could easily look below the surface in this and many other works and ponder why an ugly person is at once seen as evil and a beautiful one kind.  Think The Wizard of Oz witches. 

One day a poor man sees a star fall and goes to the spot it landed.  He finds a beautiful baby and brings him home to his wife who goes crazy and says they don't need another mouth to feed, they already have plenty of children.  Never the less they raise him and he is very beautiful.  He is very proud of his looks, disdaining all who admire him.  One day an ugly old beggar old begger woman asks him for money, he abusively refuses her.  He is then transformed into a very ugly person. 

I will stop telling the plot here as the story is so much worth reading.  One of Wilde's themes is that people are often of several natures. 

The basic themes of Wilde are in this story.  It would be an excellent class room, ten and above, story and should prompt good conversations. 

You can read it here

Please share your favorite Wilde shorter works with us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"I Love You" by Ethel Rohan (2013, from Goodnight Nobody)

"I Love You" is the 14th of 30 stories in Goodnight Nobody by Ethel Rohan.  It a very said very poignant story about a lonely older woman, barely holding on to contact with reality.  It made me thing of a great short story, "Miss Brill".  It is a brief story centering on a fifty year old woman who has always built her life around her pets, she has out lived them all but for a gopher turtle which has disappeared. 

She finds an advertisement for a place that says it places monkeys in carefully selected homes.  The man on phone asks her many questions and then congratulated her and told her she is a suitable host for a monkey.  He takes her credit card information and tells her the monkey will arrive at Los Angeles International Airport by Air Freight in seven days.  He gives her all the information she needs to claim her monkey.  She tells a coworker she is getting a monkey, the coworker tells her she heard of a woman killed by her pet chimpanzee.  The woman says she doesn't like people because they have language.  On the big day, no monkey shows up at LAX and the 800 number is disconnected.  There is a small glimmer of a happy ending which I will leave untold,  Just another story of a half misfit trying to find love in a sad world.

"Feel free to join me for ISSM4" - Carmilla

Censors at Work - How States Shaped Literature by Robert Darton (to be published 2014)

It has been thirty years since I read The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton.  The book is a series of essays on the lives of ordinary people in France between around 1730 to 1760.  The title essay focused on an episode in a large print shop.  The workers hung all the many cats the owner  of the shop took care of out of outrage at the much better food the cats got than they did.  (I admit my emotional sympathy would have been for the cats!) Darnton is now regarded as one of the leading authorities on 18th century France.  He teaches at Harvard.

As Censors at Work Opens Darnton talks about how when the Internet first began it was wide open and very freeing of expression.  Now states want to find ways to block their citizens from writing orreading anything  they don't approve of on the net.  Just last week Turkey tried to keep their citizens off Twitter and China has built a great firewall to keep out forbidden content.  Here in the Philippines the government censors old Elvis movies for having women in too brief bathing suits.  Darnton wants to develop an understanding of how governments have censored books when they were the prime vehicles of communicating ideas and why they did this.  Darnton wanted to study actual past state censorship methods and goals, picking as his subjects eras with heavy archival documentation.

He focuses on three very different eras, 18th century Bourbon France, the British in India in mid 19th century India and Communist East Germany in the years the end of WWII to the unification of Germany.  I found his book a perfect example of a historical work of the highest standard that also can be read with great pleasure and edification by interested general readers. 

Section One, "Bourbon France-Privilege and Repression", was very fascinating and deeply informative.
I thought that only books that attacked the King and the Nobles or had sexual content would be censored but the system went much beyond this.  Censors were in most cases near volunteer workers paid a very small fee.  Most did the work hoping to move up in the French government.  Nothing was supposed to be published without a stamp of approval. Censors actually could and did reject books if they thought the standard of writing was too low or if they feel the book has factual errors.  Censors were charged with only letting high quality books be published, in order to protect French culture from being "dumbed down".     If you wrote a book on cattle farming in Ancient Rome and the censor did not feel you had your facts right or that your book was poorly written, it might be blocked from publication.  Politically, no book attacking  any one rich could pass the censors.  There was a vast underground market for books and a whisper from a clandestine book merchant that a work was forbidden by the censors to a browser in their shop often induced a sale.  Darnton does a very good job of explaining how censors did their jobs.  There is a hilarious story about a poor censor who does not read a book and lets it pass at the bequest of the author's pretty wife and what happens when this slamming the Bourbon rule book makes it into print.  I found this a fascinating read which expanded my understanding of the life of authors, readers, and censors in the era. 

Section Two, "British India - Liberalism and Imperialism" focuses on middle 19th century India, during the era of the British Raj.  Censorship was a much more complicated task here than in Bourbon France.  Books and pamphlets could be in dozens of languages.  Some British officers in India did become very expert in Indian literature and culture.  These men normally had no interest in working as low paid censors doing hack work.  The British had to turn to Indiand to work as censors, reporting back to Indian supervisors about books the English would not like.  India was, and still is, a very
multi- cultural society, no one could speak or read all the languages.  Much of the fascination of this section is seeing how the British used Indian censors to achieve their objectives while the Indians in turn managed their rulers.  Indians who worked for the Raj were caught in the bind of being comfortably paid servants of an oppressive colonial master.  Some of the British in India were men of deep culture and intellect who realized Indian literature had much older roots than theirs, some British saw the Indians as one step above monkeys, existing only to enrich the empire and themselves.
I found my understanding of Indian Literature, one of my core interests, greatly enriched by this section.

I skipped the last section devoted to Communist East Germany, kind of out of my main interest zone.

Censors at Work is first rate history.  Anyone interested in the literature of the eras covered would greatly profit, unless they are all ready an expert, from this book.  The standard of prose is high.


Robert Darnton was educated at Harvard University (A.B., 1960) and Oxford University (B.Phil., 1962; D. Phil., 1964), where he was a Rhodes scholar. After a brief stint as a reporter for The New York Times, he became a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard. He taught at Princeton from 1968 until 2007, when he became Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard. He has been a visiting professor or fellow at many universities and institutes for advanced study, and his outside activities include service as a trustee of the New York Public Library and the Oxford University Press (USA) and terms as president of the American Historical Association and the International Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies. Among his honors are a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, election to the French Legion of Honor, the National Humanities Medal conferred by President Obama in February 2012, and the Del Duca World Prize in the Humanities awarded by the Institut de France in 2013. He has written and edited many books, including The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie (1979, an early attempt to develop the history of books as a field of study), The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984, probably his most popular work, which has been translated into 18 languages), Berlin Journal, 1989-1990, (1991, an account of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East Germany), and The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France (1995, a study of the underground book trade). His latest books are The Case for Books (2009), The Devil in the Holy Water, or The Art of Slander in France from Louis XIV to Napoleon (2009), and Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (2010).

I was provided a free review copy of this book.

Mel u


Saturday, March 22, 2014

James Lawless A Question and Answer Session with the author of Knowing Women, Peeling Oranges, and numerous other works

Official Author Bio


I first became acquainted with the work of James Lawless when I read and greatly admired his novel, Knowing Women.

Here are some of my thoughts on his work:

Knowing Women by James Lawless made me think of one very good book I read a year ago, and two poems, one I have read several times in the last few months, and one I have not read in decades.  That Knowing Women brought these three powerful works to my mind is a very high tribute to its artistic depth and high intelligence.  

The central character in Knowing Women is Laurence Benbo, thirty seven, a bachelor getting over a so so relationship, living in Dublin.  He is bashful and has had difficulty finding women in the past.  He likes to go for walks around Dublin, when he is not at his job as a graphic artist.  He notices an attractive woman sitting outside reading Anna Karenina.  He is intrigued by her and begins to follow her on his daily walks.  Not wanting to give away to much plot, he follows her, she is from Eastern Europe to the club where she does lap dances.  He gets to know her, she is not really a prostitute but she does begun to take gifts from Laurence and they do start a romance of sorts.  Laurence wins a big lottery prize.  Now a subplot begins involving his brother and his family.  The brother has always up until now considered the better adjusted and more successful of the two.  Something nasty happens to Laurence, caused by his brother and sister-in-law, who I did come to emphasize with.  I will leave the rest of the plot unspoiled.  There is sex, fascinating plot twists, and it does feel like Dublin is being well depicted.

The first book Knowing Women reminded me of was Occasions of Sin:  Sex and Society in Modern Ireland by Diarmaid Feriter.  Feriter depicts a culture of sexual repression, of joyless sex, late marriages and old virgins with the church and the state in everyone's bedroom.   I see Laurence Benbo as clearly emerging from  this.   His girlfriend might as well be a prostitute.  Recently I read for the first of now numerous times Patrick Kavanagh's majestic poem, "The Great Hunger".  Benbo made me think of the men in this poem who never really mature sexually or discover their sexual nature.  Men with a hunger they don't understand.  Lastly, and this reaction is probably quite off the wall, I was at once brought to mind by the hesitant character of Benbo, "The Love Song of Alfred J. Profrock" by T. S. Eliot.  

Knowing Women is observationally and psychologically acute.  It is also a lot of fun.  You knew this middle aged graphics artist with an Eastern European bisexual lap dancer girl friend was headed for trouble and I enjoyed observing his tribulations.  

I recommend this book very much and hope to read more of the work of Lawless in 2014. 

1. Declan Kiberd in his book, Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation, said the dominant theme of Modern Irish is that of the weak or missing father.  Do you think Kiberd is right? How does this impact your work, if it does.


Yes, it has been a dominant theme. We saw it with Joyce and Beckett and others who had fraught family relationships. My first novel Peeling Oranges is about a paternal quest, a son seeking a biological father, when he discovers his putative father was impotent. The modern father and indeed males in general are going through difficult times in trying to definetheir role in society. I find the caricaturing of males in many media ads unhelpful. A worrying aspect perhaps not unconnected to this is the rise in male suicides, particularly in young men.


2.  How and when did you begin to write? 


When my father bought me my first diary at the age of twelve. I had been weaned prior to that by my mother reading to me.


3.   Who are some of your favorite contemporary short story writers.  What classic writers do you find your self drawn to reread.  If a neophyte short story writer were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?


I like the stories ofJunot DíazEdna O'Brien, Louise,ErdrichDesmond Hogan, Helen SimpsonWilliam Trevorand the undervalued Gillman NoonanClassically, I likePádraig Ó ConaireJames Joyce, John McGahernRichard Yates, Katherine Mansfield, Borges, CervantesChekhov andde Maupassant.


4.  Frank  O'Connor in The Lonely Voice:  A Study of the Short Story said short stories seem to be about marginalized people, the lonely, those with with little voice in society.   Do you think he is on to something illuminating about the format?  Why is there so much loneliness in the Irish short story?


It's often in the form of a voice crying out more like a poem than a story encapsulating an emotion on the hoof as it were, affording us an epiphany into our hidden selves.


5.  I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics.   How big a factor do you think the Irish Weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers.?   I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on tropical island, for example. 


In Ireland we live indoors most of the time staring out at rain, so something like writing prevents us from going mad.Having said that, I still enjoy editing a manuscript on a Mediterranean beach, feeling the heat and listening to the waves lapping.



6.   (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 this:" 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 anthropologistwhether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."   In general how do you feel Ireland's extensive mythology impacts the literature?


In my new novel just completed American DollCon the firefighter dreams of the bean sí on the Cliffs of Moher warning of the 9/11 disaster. So I think the other world is always near our consciousness, maybe not as evident now with all the technologies bombarding us.



7.  Do you think the very large amount of remains fromneolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of  the country?




8.  When you write, do you picture and audience or do you just write?  


Initially I tend to just write. The audience comes into focus in the edits.


9.  Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile? 


Read and research; if you do enough of that the writing will seep through.


10.  how deeply is the Irish short story impacted by the Famine years?  The diaspora ? 


The famine in its displacement of people impacted perhaps,but as regards the diaspora, it is too soon to say, except maybethat there is more of an international flavour now to some of the stories.


11.  What are the last three novels you read?  Last three movies?  do you have any favorite TV shows?  


I write book reviews for the Sunday IndependentBooksIreland and the Croatian Istros Books, so recent books I have read tend to be those I reviewedA Handful of Dust by Marinko Koscec, The Eloquence of the Dead by Conor Brady and A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks. In my recent personal reading, I have enjoyed The Dead Eight by Carlo Gébler, Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje and Shadowstoryby Jennifer Johnston.


Films: Doubt, Winter's Bone (I love Woodrell's writing), The Wolf of Wall Street.


I find a lot of TV insipid except for the odd drama, quiz or nature programmes. I'm inclined to watch it when my brain has gone dead from books.



12. 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 Spanish or American Rulers..  How has the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree,  shaped Irish literature? In America it seems somehow the best short stories writers like Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers, all writers admired by Irish authors,  had their sensibilites shaped by the defeat of the south in the American Civil  War.  


I think a lot of that stuff applied to past generations of writers and maybe even warped them a bit, but I'm not so sure it applies to writers of today. I agree with Martin Amis when he said something like the contemporary writer should write for the near future.


13.  If you could live any where in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why? 


I write some of the time in the mountains of West Cork without Internet access. But the pull of the city is always there.  I'm an urban man with a rural soul as reflected in the title of my poetry collection Rus in Urbe. I also wouldn't object to a quiet villa overlooking the Mediterranean.


14.  when out of Ireland, besides family and friends, what do you miss most?  What are you glad to be away from for a while?


I miss the stability of home, but I'm also glad when I'm away from noise and too much proximity, characteristic of suburbanliving.


15.  Why do you think the short story is so popular in Ireland?


I think myths are generated about the Irish short story as indeed they are created about the Irish characterSometimes we get carried away with ourselves. The cuento or short story is popular in many countries. Cervantes wrote the first shortstories in his Novelas Ejemplares. 


16.  A while ago i read and posted on a long biography of Hart Crane, author of the Bridge-few read it but many known 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  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 referenced poets  by Irish writers last year was 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.  If Ezra Pound had not gone mad, would he still be a role model for the contemporary poet?  (I know this is long, please just respond to it as you will.). Some of this may just be a story about a poet with a stable marriage, a job and no substance issues may seem dull compared to wilder lives.  


I think in the past writers like Brendan Behan were chaotic and often inebriated, but some of the writers of today are cuter and pragmatic and not necessarily more endearing. I tend to go with Flaubert's idea of the writer as merely bourgeois in his outward daily life while his mind is contending with unfettered imaginings.


17.  Please explain to total outsiders like me how important government grants to writers are to Irish literature? who decided who gets a grant?  


It's an area that perhaps could do with more transparency. I got a small bursary for study of modern poetry Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World, but bigger bursaries are rather elusive. When sometimes the same people repeatedly wind up getting awards (sometimes by the same grant givers every year), one again wonders if you have to be in the know. As it is a very subjective procedure, in the interest of fairness, I think the people who award the bursaries should be changed regularly.


18.  Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.  


I remember attending one creative writing class some years ago which nearly destroyed me. It was conducted by amilitant feminist and misandrist who never lost an opportunityto ridicule me for daring to be male. In hindsight I should have complained about her, but I let it go. Recently I have conducted some workshops myself. They can be good for the writer in that they force engagement with others and helpclarify what one thinks on the process of writingWhether they achieve any good for neophytes is not for me to judge, although I did get heartening feedback on workshop efforts that had done well in competitions.



19.  Make up a question and answer it please.


As a student in college I asked is there such a thing as a universally accepted work of art.

The professor winked.



20.  Not long ago I was sent several very hostile messages from Irish writers demanding to know why I had posted on the works of other writers and not them.  Some suggested I had been influenced  by some sort of shadowy group to ignore their work. I was informed there is a small elite group who decides who gets reviewed, published or receives grants and it was also  suggested they had sent me negative feedback on writers I should ignore.  What in the Irish literary scene is behind this?  Is there anything like an "Irish Literary Mafia"?


There could be some truth in that. Maybe we could do with a literary ombudsman and few literary whistleblowers to clear the air, like they have in the gardaí. There is cronyism; itseems to apply to all walks of Irish life a case of who you know rather that what you know. It could have something to do with our tribal past; there is a tendency to group together,be part of the winning team, and if you're not in tough. In my view such behaviour is the opposite to that of an artist who must cultivate solitude to be true to his craft. That of course makes one vulnerable, but I see vulnerability as the hallmark of a true artist. The sad thing about the club mentality is that some talented writers who may not be cute or as adept as others in handling or being sycophantic to the media, do not receive the recognition they deserve. Some of the holders of literary power remind me of priests of yore who kept harping on about your original sin and how you wouldnever be worthy no matter how hard you tried. As a race we don'always speak well of one another and often onlygrudgingly acknowledge talent after it is recognised outside the country. There are some self-appointed celebrity'authorities' on literature who command the media and who have never written any creative work themselvesThere is a perception that if you get in front of a camera or microphone it somehow confers status on you, and it is worrying to think that some people go along with this idea. It's like if you shout loud enough or are seen often enough in media circles you become a guru. I read an interesting comment from Jeanette Winterson recently advocating a refusal to take 'advice' on how to write from anyone who has not written and published a significant piece of work.




21.  Do you think poets and short story writers have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?   One of the characters in Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, set in Mexico city and centering on poets, says that the main reason poets, nearly all male in Bolano's book,  read at work shops is to meet the way disproportional number of women who come to them in search of a tortured soul to nourish.  is this just stupid?


The act of writing is social in itselfYou make your statementthrough your characters and your art. Leave the politics to the politicians. Otherwise you are diminishing your writing with agitprop.


22.   Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience please

  Tell us something about your educational background, please. ,


Worked as a pools collector, a screen printer, an encyclopaedia salesman, a TEFL teacher, a library assistant before becoming a secondary teacher and lecturer. Worked voluntarily with the Simon Community for a number of years. Did an arts degree in Irish and Spanish and later a Masters in Communications.



23. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers? Or is this a myth?


See q. 15.


24. Quick Pick Questions


A.  tablets or laptops?




B.  E readers or traditional books?


Both have their uses, but I like the feel and indeed the smell of a physical book.


C.  Synge or Beckett?





D.  Cats or dogs?




E.  best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?  


Seville among others.


F.  Walt Whitman or Willam Butler Yeats?


Both have their moments.


G.  RTE or BBC? 






I.  Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting forGodot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubo Roi?


I like the idea of attending a drama where nothing happens twice.



25.   Do you think Irish Travellers should be granted the status of a distinct ethnic group and be given special rights to make up for past mistreatment? Are the Travellers to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English? I became interested in this question partially through reading the short stories of Desmond Hogan.


With Simon I sometimes visited their camps. I was disturbed by their early mortality rate and seeing children from a very young age being conditioned to beg. Most of the beggars and homeless on the streets now seem to be multiethnic. If you are nomadic it is hard to live in a settled community, so I wouldn't try to force a change of culture on them, rather I would try to provide more facilities and places for them to live in their own way.




26.   Death, natural and otherwise is a central factor in the Irish short story and it seems to me to play a bigger factor in the Irish short story than other cultures-can you talk about this a bit, please .  


See q.15For me life is an enquiry. It is not what you make itwhich is escapist, but what you make of it.


27.      How important is social media in the development of the career of writers?  Do you have your own web page and if so why?  Do you think it is good business savvy to post free samples of your work online?  


I am learning to do this. I feel anything that helps to get your work read is worth trying. Ireland is a small island with limited opportunities and the Internet opens up exciting possibilities globally. My work is being translated at the moment into Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French. Emails are so quick and a website gives a nucleus for one's work which can be easily accessed internationally. I have a website:



28.   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.    What do you think are some of the causes of this or is it just a myth?.


See q.16   


29.  related to question above, recently Guiness sponsored a creative writing program and set up a grant system for writers and artist.  A number of my Irish Facebook friends said they would repudiate a grant from Guiness and art festivals and programs should refuse their sponsorship.  This was in part because of the perceived terrible social cost of alcoholism on Irish families.  It was also stated that Guiness was trying to get people to see drinking as associated with creativity.   Would you refuse a grant from Guiness?  Are  their sponsorship efforts insidious? When I facetiously suggested I would take on the burden of these malicious grants, I was taken to task as an outsider who needs to mind his own business.


Many of the people of the Liberties in Dublin where I was born were grateful to Guinness for setting up the Iveagh Trust flats which took a lot of them out of slum dwellings.Guinness's made money but they were philanthropic. I don't see too much philanthropy from the present day new rich.




31.   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 then attack  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 this.  


I think it is a silly slogan.


I thanks James for taking the time to provide us with these very interesting responses.

James Lawless has very kindly sent me a short story in observation of ISSM4 so look for that soon.

I hope to read all of his books.