Top critical review
New Irish short stories
on 19 June 2012
I don't normally write a bad review, as I worry in case the author might take it personally. I do however need to explain to readers that this is far from being a good reflection of Irish writing. Don't buy this thinking, that'll set me up for a train journey or holiday, or a Modern Lit course.
Some of the authors are not Irish and Joseph O'Connor does not contribute a story. I received the impression that all the authors were feeling crushed by the recession (this was published in 2011) and having a bad day moreover, with all their pensions lost in bank shares.
O'Connor's introduction is readable. There is a good, well told story called A Gift For My Mother by Viv McDade, so I now know what a flame lily looks like and that it is illegal to pick them, while I have a picture of the veldt as a tangle of brush starred with beautiful flowers. Roddy Doyle injects the one note of humour in a bleak book, but even that tale finishes in the slough of despond. Why not cut it short and leave us enjoying it?
The rest is a catalogue of child rape, animal abuse, business failure, unemployment, drunkenness, loneliness, the wreckage of lives and houses, an author without inspiration - always the refuge of a writer with nothing left - a man who takes up the offer of quick sex with a mentally ill woman, then flees back to his wife in case she stalks him, a man who got his neighbour killed by terrorists. This reader struggled from one tale to the next, hoping that the next would be better. Or at least would read better.
Have the arts nothing to offer us any more? No hope, no Irish humour, community spirit, work ethic and resilience? Not according to O'Connor, who is at pains to tell us how wonderful and respected these authors are, yet never once says he enjoyed the stories - a strange omission in any collection. He references John McGahern who wrote stories set in Ireland's earlier days of poverty and emigration. McGahern wrote beautifully and entertainingly, and if we closed his book feeling regretful, we knew the book would be read again - try The Leavetaking. Some of these short stories are so drawn-out and poorly written that I wondered if the authors were being paid by the word; others are just a ramble of rubbish about everything in the world being buried and meaningless and hopeless.
The people featured in this collection, and the editor, seem to have forgotten - perhaps through personal problems - that the point of storytelling is twofold: to entertain and to inform. Look at Red Riding Hood and The Children of Lir. The simple tales are rich with symbolism, warnings, colour, nature, parental advice and neglect, difficult childhoods and struggle against adversity, and are tales to be told for a thousand years.
The point of storytelling is not to make your reader lose the will to live.