World wide Pandemic issues have halted most global travel plans. In the marvelous stories of Catherine McNamara we can continue our journeys, in great company.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write, and ended up in Ghana co-running a bar. On the way she lived in Milan, Mogadishu and Brussels, working as a translator, graphic designer, teacher, art gallery director, shoe model, mother. The Cartography of Others was a finalist in the People’s Book Prize (UK) and won the Eyelands International Fiction Award (Greece). Pelt and Other Stories was a semi- finalist in the Hudson Prize (USA) and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award (Ireland). Her short fiction has been Pushcart-nominated and published widely. Catherine lives in a farmhouse in northern Italy.
I have been an avid reader of the Short Stories of Catherine McNamara since I read her debut collection Pelt and Other Stories. Here were my observations on this marvelous collection-
“Pelt and Other Stories by Catherine McNamara, her debut collection, is a very powerful, thoroughly captivating collection of stories most of which center on the post colonial world of central coastal West Africa. The subtlies and levels of irony in these stories show a very great insight into how cross cultural encounters impact all parties. The people in the stories range from European hotel owners in Ghana, famous art photographers, mistresses of Europeans, drivers, and village people. The stories are mostly but not all set in West Africa. One is set in the very worldly city of Sydney, some in Italy. . The stories are miniature marvels in showing us the manifestation of orientalizing of the African not just by Europeans and Americans but by returned citizens. The stories show us how hard it is to return home unchanged. These stories are not about ignorant hateful prejudice. McNamara is too knowing and intelligent for that. They are about the very great difficulties of escaping from our deep conditioning, our unseen frames of reference. The stories are also fun to read. Lots of interesting things happen, there is some sex, women eyeballing each other, and a strong sense of humor.”
Next I posted on her second collection of short stories,The Cartography of Others.
I highly recommend this collection to all lovers of short stories.
I defer here to the elegant judgement of Hilary Mantel, twice winner of The Booker Prize
““McNamara’s work has a fierce, vital beat, her stories robust yet finelyworked, her voice striking in its confidence and originality. She writes with sensuous precision and a craft that is equally precise. This is fiction that can stand up in any company.” –Hilary Mantel
“In Venice” A story from Catherine McNamarra new collection Love Stories for Hectic People. (This story is protected under international copyright law and is the exclusive property of the author and cannot be published in any format without her permission, which I have been kindly given.)
“In Venice” by Catherine McNamara
Donna Carmichael felt the full weight of her name when she and Greg were in Italy. Every time she handed over their pass- ports to a hotel receptionist, the sleek man or abundant woman would show teeth and say ‘Donnna! You are a woo- man, Signora Carmichael!’ Several hotels into their trip an American explained that donna meant ‘woman’, meaning that Donna’s Melbournian parents had christened her with a name that merely flagged her gender.
An amused Greg started calling her Woo-man when they were lying undressed on hotel beds. Greg was a man who almost always invited sex into the room, in ways that were ex- ploratory and tender. But when he called her Woo-man, he encouraged Donna to perform lavish and servile acts.
One glum morning in Venice they climbed back to their room after breakfast, having decided to spend the day in bed. Donna felt tingles of anticipation along the bridge between her legs. They reached the door to their room and Greg in- serted the brass key dangling from a burnished ball of wood. They stood looking through the doorway at the rumpled bed- sheets they had left an hour ago, the day now reframed.
Greg closed the door. Donna undid her jeans. They stood fondling each other, clothes flying off, until they dropped to the floor and crawled to the centre of the gritty room.
Greg breathed the word Woo-man in Donna’s eager ear. Something in the muted marine air or beyond the peaked Gothic win- dows made the game edgier and soon Greg – this was a first – found himself fiercely slapping Donna’s rump.
When it was over, Donna rolled on the carpet, her bottom still burning as she returned to the raft of her body. Greg lifted away and went to the bathroom, where he stared at a creeping smile on his face. A boat sloshed past below and Donna looked at Greg’s Casanova translation, fallen to the floor.
Donna walked out of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum holding Greg’s hand. They were not particularly satisfied; it was an arid, motionless place. What had really stayed with them was something they had seen yesterday in a costume museum. It was a pair of platformed chopines for tiny feet. The wood- work was a chipped sage-green, painted with flowers, and the clogs were impossibly teetering, designed for the high tides that slew through the lagoon town. They were so tall a courte-
san would require two maidens to help her walk.
Over drinks Greg and Donna talked about Greg’s fierce slapping that morning, and whether they wanted to continue in this vein (or should even), and where it might lead them next. Excited and frank, they looked at the arousing city sur- rounding them, immersed in the sultry lagoon. Both agreed their urges belonged to a wider carnal history they were keen to plumb
Below you can see the titles of half the stories, who could fail to be intrigued by the first one.
I give this collection my highest endorsement. In it is the perfect lockdown read.
The Reading Life