Bibliofemme Bookclub An Irish Bookclub

January 10, 2012

The Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories

Filed under: Book Reviews,Irish — The DJ @ 12:55 pm
The Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories, 2004-5 Book Cover The Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories, 2004-5
David Marcus
Authors, Irish

Compilations, be they of music or film, usually tend to be a varied bag of glittering gems and damp squibs. Faber’s new Irish collection of short stories is no exception, but the word ‘new’ hints temptingly at the possibility of more undiscovered writers than are actually included here. One thing an anthology like this promises, is the chance to experience writers we’ve never heard of. In a genre so beloved of Irish writers, the bar has always been significantly high. Many of the stories in this collection reach it, some surpass it, but many of the stories are disappointing. Sadly it is some of the newer writers that fail to hold our attention while the usual suspects came up with the goods in some strong writing.

Younger writers like Mary Burke and Cóilín Ó Haodha experiment with form but the stories themselves fail to make an impression. Even the advantage of experience doesn’t help Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Joke’. It tells the story of a married couple who have grown apart and this disappointing story comes across as empty and unemotional – but not in the way Doyle was hoping for. Hugo Hamilton gives a humorous account of being a wage slave to an unappreciative boss while Bernard McLaverty’s ‘Matters of Life and Death’ is that quintessential Irish story about the family unit. It even hints at Big House Literature in telling us of two young brothers whose father has died and they are being looked after by a childless couple. It’s a powerful story of spoken and unspoken yearning and one of the most memorable in the book.

Colum Tóibín couldn’t be further from The Master if he tried, with his tale of drug-fuelled promiscuity and bereavement in ‘Water’. A group of gay friends take a lot of drugs, go to a beach party and discover that the endless quest to find someone special can end right under your nose. Edna O’Brien ‘Love’s Lesson’ is a philosophical observation of relationships and the narrator’s friend Clarissa provides one of the best lines about relationships you’ll ever read: “She said the reason love is so painful is that it always amounts to two people wanting more than two people can give.” I’ve read both Gerard Donovans’ novels Schopenhauer’s Telescope and Dr Salt which are complex, experimental books. His story ‘Harry Dietz’ relies on the same hazy, otherworldly quality where the reader finds it hard to distinguish between what’s reality and what’s not, to great effect.

The best stories in the book are ones to cherish, and ones that in some way overlap because of their very visual qualities. (It’s worth pointing out at this stage that a large number of the stories have no dialogue at all). My favourite is Niall Williams ‘When God Was A Comedian’ about stolen silver in a South American church. None of the stories are as evocative, so well written, as Williams’. I was constantly reminded while reading this collection that it’s just over a year since a similar one was published. Cutting The Night In Two featured only Irish women writers and in many ways is a more satisfying collection. What I remember most from reading it, is that it introduced me to one writer in particular, MJ Hyland, and as a result I keep a constant eye on her output. In this anthology, the same can be said of two other women writers, Molly McCluskey and Sophia Hillan. In McCluskey’s excellent ‘Another Country’, a listless woman interacts with her gay friend, Mr Banana, and her daughter, against the backdrop of a media frenzy concerning a missing child. Its multiple narratives and its exploration of innocence are wonderfully drawn. Sophia Hillan’s ‘The Cocktail Hour’ is extremely filmic. There is a 1940s film noir feel to it and the examination of how something ordinary can become something sinister is well-paced and inventive. Also in the same vein is Neil Jordan’s ‘The Berkeley Complex’. It has a Philidelphia Here I Come style narrative with two selves, a sort of Gar Public and Gar Private. In a brilliantly delineated scene of killing one aspect of his ‘self’, you can’t help but think of Hitchcock. The windswept denouement is very like DuMaurier’s Rebecca while the foreboding maternal influence has to be a reference to Psycho (he mentions Freud for God’s sake!)

In his introduction, David Marcus quotes VS Pritchett’s view of the short story saying: “The short story is, above all, the memorable form of imaginative writing”. This pertains to a large chunk of the stories but not to quite a few of these.  The DJ

The Stories:
Another Country (Molly McCluskey) – The Joke (Roddy Doyle) – Organ Recital (Gillman Noonan) – Different City Different State (Paula Cunningham) – Harry Dietz (Gerard Donovan) – Cold Front (Blánaid McKinney) – Faithless Heart (Cóilín Ó Haodha) – HyBrasil (Mary Burke) – Surrender (William Wall) – They Need No Motorcars (Julia O’Faolain) – Matters of Life and Death (Bernard MacLaverty) – A Good Turn (George Morrissey) – Drag (Mary Morrissy) – The Berkeley Complex (Neil Jordan) – The Homesick Industry (Hugo Hamilton) – The Forester’s Daughter (Claire Keegan) – What is it Called, Your Country, Behind the Mountain? (Colum McCann) – Love’s Lesson (Edna O’Brien) – When God Was A Comedian (Niall Williams) – The Other Silence (Tom Mac Intyre) – Water (Colum Tóibín) – A Way of Making Sure (Dermot Somers) – The Cocktail Hour (Sophia Hillan)

August 2005


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