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

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Madwoman Upstairs - A Novel of The Last Bronte by Catherine Lowell - 2016 - 353 pages

 The Madwoman Upstairs - A Novel  of The Last Bronte by Catherine Lowell - 2016 - 353 pages

If you are seriously into the Brontes then I think you will find this novel fascinating.  It assumes you have reread at least Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and know them well enough to feel you could discuss the novels with an Oxford Don.  If you are also an avid reader of the lesser known Anne you will probably be in your glory.

Samantha Whipple, with the recent passing of her father,a well known writer, is the last descendant of the Brontes.  Everyone assumes she is the heir to a hidden fortune in diaries, letters, paintings and early manuscripts.  The problem is Samantha has never seen such items and has few clues about them.  For all she knows they do not exist.

When Samantha enrolls in Oxford she gets a lot of attention due to her ancestry.  With the help of James Orville, her Oxford Tutor and some strange clues she begins to unravel literary and family mysteries.

I enjoyed this book.  I liked the intense conversations about literature.   I was left waiting for a romance to develop.

I found the characters could have been better developed. I did not find a real sense of place in Oxford.  I thought the mother needed work to be interesting.  Her father’s old Love  interest was not all convincing.  

I would endorse this book to Bronte devoted readers.  

I must note it received all sorts of rave reviews 

“Catherine Lowell is writer of novels, letters, and the occasional limerick. She received her degree in English literature from Stanford University, where her academic interests were inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson's observation: "There is creative reading as well as creative writing." The Madwoman Upstairs owes its existence to a fierce love of the Brontës, a terrible bout of insomnia, and the kind hospitality of many Manhattan coffee shops. 

Catherine’s passions include obscure history books and hot chocolates. Her favorite quote is from Robin Williams:

"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."

Thursday, August 26, 2021

“ Creeping” - A Short Story by Pat O’Connor from his debut collection - People in My Brain - 2019

 “Creeping” - A Short Story by Pat O’Connor from his debut collection - People in My Brain - 2019

During the last 18 months, here in Metro Manila, I have been pretty much under lockdown the entire time.  The government has strict regulations and my wife and three adult daughters have imposed stricter ones.  We suffer no material deprivation, while many here do have real food anxieties, I have videos, a virtual and real library, six cats and a newly added Shin Tsu for company.  I am grateful for my privileged situation but sometimes I miss going to the mall, dining out and other things.  Compared to millions who live day to day struggling to survive, like the man in “Creeping”,I am so very fortunate.

I have been working my way through The stories in 

People in My Brain,  creatively a very diverse exciting collection, for the last few months.

Today’s story, “Creeping”, centers on a quite old man, recently widowed.  He lives in a terrible urban slum, nearly dystopic.  Once his neighborhood was not to bad, it all went to hell when his wife Gracie died.  He stays in their house but afraid to Go out to get food because of the children.

“Evening has deepened. Darkness falls. Out in the street, roars and shrieks echo against the walls, the blare of loud cars and motorbikes is angry, ever-changing. I can’t know who might be in the garden. The windows are useless because of the bushes. I dread those windows. I’ve dreamed of sheets of wood, of corrugated iron, so that when they come they must at least come by the door. But corrugated iron is as impossible as anything else.”.

We can feel the old man’s fear.

In just a few pages O’Connor brings us into this horrible world.

From The author’s website

Pat O’Connor lives in Limerick in the southwest of Ireland. He was a joint winner of the 2009 Best Start Short Story Competition in Glimmertrain, and in 2010  he was shortlisted for the Sean O’Faolain International Short Story Prize. In 2011, he was shortlisted for the RTE Francis MacManus Award for radio stories, and won the Sean O’Faolain Prize. In 2012 he was shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Fish Short Story prize.  In 2013 he was longlisted for Over the Edge New Writer of the Year.

His stories have been published in Southword, Revival, Crannóg, The Penny Dreadful, the Irish Independent, the Irish Times, anthologized by the Munster Literary Centre, and broadcast on RTE.

His radio play This Time it’s Different, was broadcast on 95fm as part of the Limerick City of Culture program in 2014.

In autumn 2014, he was one of eight International Writers in Residence in Tianjin, China.

His story Advice and Sandwiches was included in the Hennessy Anthology of New Irish Writing 2005-2015, published by New Island.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Apeirogon by Colum McCann - 2021- 480 Pages - a novel

 Apeirogon - by Colum McCann - A Novel - 2020 - 480 Pages 

“apeirogon: A polygon having an infinite number of sides and vertices”

I have been following the work of Colum McCann for nine years.

Here are my suggestions as to reading order for his prior six novels.

1.  Let the Great World Keep on Spinning.  His most awarded book to date.

2.  Transatlantic is actually my favorite but it is not yet as famous as the above work.  It was nominated for The Booker Prize.

Proceed on in McCann if you  like these novels, I certainly did.

3.  Zoli - revolves about a Roma woman (gypsy) who became a well known poet.  I am very interested in this culture so that helped me like the book.

4.  Dancer - about Rudolph Nureyev, fascinating in parts.  


5.   Everything in this Country Must. -   An internationally roaming but rooted in Ireland search by a man for his father.  Parts are brilliant

6.  This Side of Brightness 6th place McCann still worth reading.- 

What are your favorite McCann novels and stories?

I think I would put Apeirogon now at least in third place.

Apeirogon deals very profoundly with conflict between Israelis and Palestians over living territory.   To Palestinians Israelis have stolen their land, treated them with great inequity.  Israelis, The country was founded by Holocaust survivors, feel they are occupy ing  a God ordained homeland they will defend at all costs.  

The novel is structured on the actual experiences of two fathers whose daughters  were innocent victims, collateral damage, in the conflict.  Rami Elhanan is an Isreali grahic designer whose Young daughter was killed by a suicide bomber and Bassam Aramin, is a Palestinian scholar of the Holocaust.  As a Young man he spent Seven years as a political prisoner.  His daughter was killed by Isreali Defense forces, perhaps by accident.  Told in 1001 episodes, the  novel ranges widely in Middle Eastern history, goes into detail about the birds of the area, the economics and the Apartheid like policy imposed on those of Arabic heritage who live in Israeli.  The two men in time begin to engage in speaking engagements urging the end of the conflict.

I agree with The Guardian’s assesment of Apeirogon

“It is a strange time for a novel as full-hearted as Apeirogon. It feels as if the situation in the Middle East is always a reflection of its age... But perhaps that’s the point – the desperation of the situation has brought forth a work of art whose beauty, intelligence and compassion may go some way to changing things. Is it absurd to suggest that a novel might succeed where generations of politicians have failed? Perhaps, but then Apeirogon is the kind of book that comes along only once in a generation.”

Apeirogon is a challenging novel, both in content and method.

Whatever effort it reauires Will be more than repaid.


Colum McCann is the author of seven novels and three collections of stories. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, he has been the recipient of many international honours, including the U.S National Book Award, the International Dublin Literary Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish arts academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an Oscar nomination. In 2017 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts.  His work has been published in over 40 languages.  He is the President and co-founder of the non-profit global story exchange organisation, Narrative 4. He is the Thomas Hunter Writer in Residence in Hunter College, in New York, where he lives with his wife Allison and their family.  His most recent novel, Apeirogon, became an immediate New York Times best-seller and won several major international awards.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan - 2021


Small Things Like These - by Claire Keegan. - 2021

Following an eight year hiatus, it is very gratifying to be once again reading a work by Claire Keegan.  It is already being acclaimed as a masterpiece.  

Praise for Small Things Like These:

“In Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan creates scenes with astonishing clarity and lucidity. This is the story of what happened in Ireland, told with sympathy and emotional accuracy. From winter skies to the tiniest tick of speech to the baking of a Christmas cake, Claire Keegan makes her moments real—and then she makes them matter.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician

“Small Things Like These is not just about Ireland, it’s about the world, and it asks profound questions about complicity, about the hope and difficulty of change, and the complex nature of restitution… A single one of Keegan’s grounded, powerful sentences can contain volumes of social history. Every word is the right word in the right place, and the effect is resonant and deeply moving.”—Hilary Mantel, author of The Mirror and the Light

Set in a small town in Western Ireland, the central character Bill Furlong, forty, married to Elaine, with five daughter, orphaned early in life, was raised with the utmost care by Mrs Wilson, a widow.  She gave him a few thousand to start a coal and Log business that sustains the family in comfort and provides work for a number of men.  He gives credit to those who need Help.  Bill works very hard, six at least days a week.

Keegan perfectly evokes not just The place but Christmas Season 1985.  The family dyamics are perfect.As Bill makes his deliveries he tries to collect as much of his invoices as he can.  The people are marvelously depicted.  His biggest customer is a nunnery that takes in wayward or unwanted girls and puts them to work in one of the now infamous Magdalene Laundries.  

I do not want to give away any of the plot.  I do think this has the potential to become a classic. 

Irish writer Claire Keegan’s debut collection of stories, Antarctica, was a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. The Observer called these stories: ‘Among the finest recently written in English’. It was also awarded the William Trevor Prize, judged by William Trevor. 

In 2007, her second collection, Walk the Blue Fields, was published to huge critical acclaim and went on to win The Edge Hill Prize for the strongest collection published in The British Isles. The prize was adjudicated by Hilary Mantel. 

Foster (2010) won The Davy Byrnes Award, then the world’s richest prize for a story. It judged by Richard Ford: “Keegan is a rarity-someone I will always want to read’.” 

Keegan’s stories are published in English by Faber & Faber, have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Paris Review, Best American Stories, won numerous awards – and are translated into 17 languages.  She is internationally renowned as a teacher of creative writing.  From

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Two Witnesses by Michael Gale - 2021 - 73 Pages

 The Two Witnesses by Michael Gale - 2021- 73 Pages

There are numerous ways one can profit from Michael Gale’s deeply pondered account of End Times as predicted in the Last book of the New Testament, The Book of Revelation.

As the work opens Michael is a hotel in Jerusleum.  He has been there many times before.  He begins to feel a greater understanding of the meaning of The Two Witnesses as well as 

the stats of the church at end times.  End times is meant as time when only believers in the true church will survive.  It appears a literal apocalypse is coming.  Only a small portion of humanity Will survive.

“The purpose of this book is to describe the events that take place at the end of the age.The Book of Revelation is written to the churches and for the churches so they will not be deceived. The book of Revelation describes the condition of the church in the last days as two churches, the church in Philadelphia and the church in Laodicea. The church in Philadelphia is the overcomer church. The church in Laodicea is the apostate church. Who is in the church of Philadelphia? Who is in the church of Laodicea? What is the difference between the ministry of the inner court and the ministry of the outer court”.  Michael Gale

Two Witnesses is a study in deep Reading.  About half the book is taken up with citations to back up Gale’s insights.  Gale sees, as do many, the Bible in both testaments as a unified text, one book, not many chapters written over centuries then assembled.  I admit to not being sure whether Gale sees Jesus as one third of the trinity or as an individual who is the Son of God.  

Part One deals with the life and work of Jesus as it pertains to the Two Witnesses.  Jesus has stated his words, as was true in Jewish Civil court,require to witnesses to validate.  This is theologically a complex issue.

 “Jesus said, if I testify of myself, my testimony is not true. However, the works that the Father does through me, they testify of me. Jesus was one witness and the works that the Father did through Him was the second witness. The two witnesses at the end of the age are a company of worshipers. Measure the sanctuary and those who worship in it. They testify of themselves and the works that the Holy Spirit does through them testifies of them.” -from Two Witnesses 

Further Gale does see it, or so I think, that only those who are members of the correct church will be saved.  

Part Two- The Woman Gives Birth to a child. In chapter 12 of Revelations a male child is born.  The mother is seen as Isreal and The Baby Jesus. The woman is also The Last Days Church.

“The woman is the last day church. She is with child and gives birth to the overcomers, who rule the nations with Jesus during the Kingdom. This overcomer company, the church in Philadelphia, is taken behind the veil. They are the worshipers in the sanctuary. This overcomer company is the two witnesses”.

Part Three.

Here we see perhaps The Core of Gale’s warnings based on his readings 

Revelation chapter 9 says the second woe is 200 million horsemen with fire coming out of their mouths and consuming their enemies. Revelation chapter 11 says the second woe is the two witnesses with fire coming out of their mouths and consuming their enemies. They are one and the same. Are you one of the 200 million overcomers? Are you in the sanctuary or are you in the outer court?

The Book of Revelation has had an immense influence on the world.  It still does.

Gale’s book helped me understand how the Book of Revelation 

can be read as a real time account of how the world will end. Of course this requires a leap of faith.

Michael Gale

Michael Gale has been studying Bible Prophecy since the miracle of the Six Day War in 1967. He has been teaching end time prophecy for many years. Michael has been to Israel over a dozen times. He coordinates events with his Jewish friends who live in Jerusalem and the settlements in Judea and Samaria.

Michael has been married to his wife, Janice, since 1976. They have one daughter, Katie. He has been a software developer for the last forty years. He spends as much time as possible backpacking into the wilderness areas of the Colorado mountains.

Michael lives in Greeley, Colorado

Friday, August 20, 2021

Some Tame Gazelle- by Barbara Pym - A Novel - 1950 - 252 Pages

 Some Tame Gazelle- by Barbara Pym - A Novel - 1950 - 252 Pages 

Born - June 13, 1913 - Oswestry, England

Died - January 11, 1980 - Oxford, England 

Barbara Pym is among the best chroniclers of a now lost, maybe lost when she was writing, world of curates, vicars and women whose lives are bound up the social world of post World War Two England, with rationing, the return of service men and endless meeting for tea. No one has children out of wedlock, of course. Many have small “private incomes”.

This is my second venture into the fiction of Barbara Plym.  I began with her Excellent Women as it seems her consensus best work. (The Kindle edition was on sale for $2.95, another incentive.)

The second of her novels I have read  is Some Tame Gazelle.  It was completed  in 1935 when Pym was 18 but not published until 1950, with minor revisions.

Even more than Excellent Women, Some Tame Gazelle, the title comes from an 18th century poem by Thomas Bailey, very much Is taken up with the relationship of the women characters to Church of England Clerics serving in their locale.

The plot line centers on two sisters, spinsters (is “spinster” now an offensive expression?) Belinda in her fifties and her younger sister Harriet.  The have always lived together. Belinda since her university days has loved archdeacon Haccleve.  He ended up marrying a well connected Bishop’s daughter.  Harriet enjoys looking after young curates.  She does have an admirer,an Italian count Ricardo Bianca whose marriage proposal she regularly declines.  I found him a very interesting addition to the clerics.

Curates come and go, each unmarried one bringing drama.  There is a curate newly returned from Africa, a head of a library and his student. 

There are lots of quotes from 18th century and even earlier English poetry that has to be an impressive display of erudition from an 18 year old.

Foodies will enjoy the many references.  Tea service seems the glue that holds the  world of Some Tame Gazelle together.  

I hope to continue my reading of Pym

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Elizabeth Hardwick - Two Short Stories dealing with race relationships in Mississipi in The 1950s- “A Business Venture” and “Sharon”

 Elizabeth Hardwick - Two Short Stories  dealing with race relationships in Mississipi in The 1950s

“A Business Venture” and “Sharon”

Elixabeth Hardwick

July 27, 1916 - Lexington, Kentucy

1949 to 1972 - Married to Robert Lowell

December 2, 2007 - Manhattan, New York

“Sharon” - 1974

“A Business Venture” - 1986

Both of these stories are included in the forthcoming Library of America Volume devoted to Elizabeth Hardwick

(I was not able to locate first publication data on either story).


Sharon is The name that The narrator’s uncle gives to his house, in Mississipi, built prior to The Civil War.  The narrator seems in her early teens, she is often invited over her uncle’s to eat.

You can see How skillfully Hardwick describes The uncle’s estate:

“UNclE HERNAN, my mother’s brother (his full name was Hernando de Soto Wirth), lived right near us—a little way down the road, if you took the road; across the pasture, if you didn’t—in a house surrounded by thick privet hedge, taller than a man riding by on a mule could see over. He had live oaks around the house, and I don’t remember ever going there without hearing the whisper of dry fallen leaves beneath my step on the ground. Sometimes there would be a good many Negroes about the house

and yard, for Uncle Hernan worked a good deal of land, and there was always a great slamming of screen doors—people looking for something they couldn’t find and hollering about where they’d looked or thought for somebody else to look, or just saying, “What’d you say?” “Huh?”“I said, ‘What’d you say?’”—or maybe a wrangling noise of a whole clutch of colored children playing off down near the gully. But in spite of all these things, even with all of them going on at one and the same time, Uncle Hernan’s place was a still place.”

Uncle Hernan is a widower.  His wife passed a few years ago.  The African American woman who she brought with her to be her maid, has stayed on.  She speaks in a more educated fashion than would be expected.  The narrator’s mother wants her to leave, suspecting her reasons for staying.

The narrator sees something very shocking looking through  her uncle’s window, something that viloated The deepest values of White Mississipi.

A Business Arrangement 

This is a longer story, narrated by a married woman, age not specified, who is married to Charlie, a serial philander, an oil speculator and a serious drinking party Boy.  The story opens in an office where Eileen works.  We learn  sbout her friends.

One of them, Nellie Townsend lives with her mother in a big House,she runs a dry cleaning business from The House.

“She had working for them off and on a Negro back from the Vietnam war who had used his veterans’ educational benefits to train as a dry cleaner. She picked up the idea when her mother

happened to remark one night after she had paid him for some carpenter work, “Ain’t that a dumb nigger, learning dry cleaning with nothing to dry-clean.” Now, when Mrs. Townshend said “nigger,” it wasn’t as if one of us had said it. She went back through the centuries for her words, back to when “ain’t” was good grammar. “Nigger” for her just meant “black.” But it was assuming Robin had done something dumb that was the mistake. Because he wasn’t dumb, and Nelle knew it. He told her he’d applied for jobs all around, but they didn’t offer much and he might have to go to Biloxi or Hattiesburg or Gulfport to get one. The trouble was, he owned a house here. Nelle said, “Maybe you could work for me.”

Of course trouble comes from this.  

This is really a delightful story and i Will leave the plot untold.

The two just publidhed Library of America volumes i spoke about recently, those on Donald Bartheleme and Jean Stafford include their complete Short Stories.  The Hardwick volume has only “selected stories” Plus three novels.  My Research indicates a lot of her stories are left out, including famous ones.  I would prefer The complete stories and leave The novels for a second book.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Two Short Stories by Jean Stafford “The Interior Castle” and “A Reading Problem”

Two Short Stories by Jean Stafford

“The Interior Castle” and “A Reading Problem”

Jean Stafford 

Born - July 1, 1915 - Covina, California 

Married 1940 to 1948 to Robert Lowell . One of three marriages.

She published three novels but is

  now most regarded for her wonderful short stories, most of which were published in The New Yorker or The Partesian Review.

1970 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 

Died - March 26, 1979 - White Plains, New York

A few days ago I was very kindly given a copy of Library of American Edition of The Complete Stories and Other Writings of Jean Stafford.  

My first venture into her work was “Maggie Meriwether's Rich Experience” - A Short Story set in Paris 

- first published June 17, 1955 in The New Yorker. It contains one of the most wonderful sentences I have ever read.

“There  was a hole so neat that it looked tailored in the dead center of the large round beige velours mat that had been thrown on the grass in the shade of the venerable sycamore, and through it protruded a clump of mint, so chic in its air of casualness, so piquant in its fragrance in the heat of mid-July, that Mme Floquet, a brisk Greek in middle life, suggested, speaking in French with a commandingly eccentric accent, that her host, Karl von Bubnoff, M. le Baron, had contrived it all with shears and a trowel before his Sunday guests arrived at his manorial house, Magnamont, in Chantilly.”

Now that is an opening sentence!

The Interior Castle”

“The Interior Castle” The Interior Castle" was first published in Partisan Review in 1946, later anthologized in five collections, including The Best American Short Stories of 1947, and collected in Children Are Bored on Sunday in 1953.

This story is said to be partially based on time Stafford spent in the hospital after a car crash which sent her through the windshield.  In the imagined  wreck, the cab driver was killed.  In real Life she was badly hurt when riding with a drunken Robert Lowell at the wheel.

Set over a good bit of time, ths narrator has suffered some memory loss and needs surgery on her nose to breath normally.

Stafford shows us the narrator trying to recover her identity.

“[The surgeon] had now to penetrate regions that were not anesthetized and this he told her frankly … The knives ground and carved and curried and scoured the wounds they made; the scissors clipped hard gristle and the scalpels chipped off bone. It was as if a tangle of tiny nerves were being cut dexterously, one by one; the pain writhed spirally … The pain was a pyramid made of a diamond; it was an intense light; it was the hottest fire, the coldest chill, the highest peak”

The story takes place entirely in Pansy Vanneman’s stream of consciousness as doctors, nurses, and hospital workers are  floating in and out of her mind.  Nurses try to draw Pansy out with magazines  and radio.  Pansy’s biggest concern is the integrity of her mind.

The hospital is described as bland, like a bank where her mind is focused on Beauty.  The story takes us deeply into her struggle.  There is an interesting section on her nose surgery where she thinks about how handsome and vain The doctor seems to be.

“A Reading Problem”

This story was first published  in The New Yorker June 22, 1956

“One of the great hardships of my childhood—and there were many, as many, I suppose, as have ever plagued a living creature—was that I could never find a decent place to read. If I tried to read at home in the living room, I was constantly pestered by someone saying, “For goodness’ sake, Emily, move where it’s light. You’re going to ruin your eyes and no two ways about it,” or “You ought to be outdoors with the other youngsters getting some roses in your cheeks.”  

For sure i heard this sort of thing often 

during my early days and I bet others in the forum did  also.

 it turns out the local sherriff loves to read and lets her read in the jail as long as there are no prisinors locked up. She enjoys it and the sherriff is very kind and supportive of her Reading”. Then one days he tells her some very Rough sellers of illegal whiskey, moon shine, are coming in and she must stay out until they are gone.  An intersting story that gets much more interesting as she reads by the roadside.  She encounters a man, a traveling preacher, and his daughter, her age.  They see her Reading so they offer her book, meant to save souls, for $1.00, a fortune to her.  They reduce price to fifty cents.  They insist she get The money from her parents.  What ensued from here is Right out of a perfect southern Gothic classic.

The ending is a joy.

I selected these two stories because they are so adifferent from each other.

I am confident other great stories await me.