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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 18 February 2012
Emma Donoghue's 'Touchy Subjects' is a collection of short stories written by the author over a number of years and, as such, these stories show a good level of variety and versatility. There are some clever stories, some amusing stories and some quite sad ones; others start out seemingly ordinary, only to turn rather extraordinary once Donoghue has applied her fertile imagination to the tale.

The first story which is the title story, begins with a married man meeting a single woman in a hotel room - but not for an affair as we might first think, he is there with his wife's consent to provide her childless friend with a very special donation. Another story: 'Good Deed' had me laughing aloud as we read about Sam, a pretty decent guy who has been a volunteer for the Samaritans, given tax-free donations to worthy causes and " ...always worn a condom (well, not always, just when he was having sex)..." One winter's day Sam is walking along with his expensive overcoat buttoned up to his chin, when he sees a homeless man lying on the pavement. Everyone walks past ignoring the man, even though (or maybe, because) he is bleeding from his mouth. But can Sam, the Good Samaritan, walk by?

One story I found particularly absorbing was 'WritOR' where a minor published writer takes a job as writer-in-residence at a small college where he is besieged by would-be writers - some of whom are sad, lonely people, some who are just plainly untalented, but others who appear to be teetering on the edge of insanity. I found this story rather moving and extremely funny at the same time.

I didn't used to be a fan of shorter fiction - but after reading some excellent examples by Sue Gee, Helen Dunmore and Tessa Hadley, I have changed my mind and now I can add Emma Donoghue to my list. As with most short story collections, some of these stories (19 in all) are a little more enjoyable than others, but they are all good examples of the short story genre, and well worth the read. If you are interested in reading some well written, entertaining and rather clever stories, then you might just like to try this collection from the author of Room - keep it in the car, or in the kitchen, for when you have a few moments to yourself, but not enough time to get involved in a full length novel.

4 Stars.

Other recommended short stories: Married Love by Tessa Hadley; Last Fling (Salt Modern Fiction) by Sue Gee; Ice Cream by Helen Dunmore.
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on 7 September 2012
It's not every writer who can turn their craft to the short story amd make it work. Emma Donoghue is one of those writers. I found each story in this compelling collection had something to say for itself. Emma has a deft touch and an attentive observational eye.

Each story has a different take on modern life and the social and personal compromises that we continually feel we have to make, from a man misreading his wife's reaction to her facial hair, to the search for the perfect blue that's really more about the tricks memory plays, to the escalating cost of a cat's vet's bills that results in one half of a couple wondering what would happen if her partner had to make the financial choice regardung her own health. Sometimes it's sad and melancholic, sometimes funny, sometime brutal, but always engaging and well-written. We are taken on a extraordinary journey through the everyday, and I defy anyone to have not encountered at least one of the dilemmas portrayed here in some form or another. Thoroughlly enjoyable.
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Donoghue takes the prickly subjects, often the ones that need words of political correctness, and the painful, embarrassing, shameful subjects and gives us wonderful characters replete with their flaws, hopes and dreams. The first is the story of the woman, flown to Ireland from the US trying to get pregnant with the help of a (not too big) jar of sperm from her best friend’s husband. Another, (The Cost of Things) has the escalating cost of a couple’s vet’s bills for their cat threatening the couple’s relationship.

Perhaps predictably, one of the nineteen stories I liked best is ‘WritOR’ where a minor writer takes a position of writer-in-residence at a small college. Here Donoghue lets her imagination rip (I hope it’s not actual experience). She gives us the woman who wrote about ‘savages’ and when questioned said it was because she didn’t want to use the ’n’ word. The girl who wrote poetry and when asked about her favourites said she doesn’t pay attention to ’who actually wrote’ the poem. She doesn’t re-draft so as ‘not to mess with the magic’ of her appalling poetry, including ‘cactus flowers longing for the monsoon’, and worries about sending poems to magazines in case the editor steals them and publishes them under his own name. The students - wide age range and occupation - never use a dictionary: ‘the drunk fell down unconscientious’, and one decides to self publish without understanding what a verb is. Some never write a word but feel they have a destiny to fulfil. The Writer’’s optimism turns to compassion for these would-bes, these social rejects, then transmogrifies into anger and despair and finally to just listening.

Wry, clever, funny and insightful stories.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 December 2014
This engaging book of nineteen short stories, published in 2007, addresses the vagaries of contemporary life on both sides of the Atlantic. The stories are divided into sections: ‘Babies’ [6], ‘Domesticity’ [3], ‘Strangers’ [3], ‘Desire’ [3] and ‘Death’ [4]. The characters and their everyday concerns are presented in a quirky, but never superficial manner.

The starting points of most of the stories, written between 1999-2004, are inconsequential – a hair on a female partner’s chinny-chin-chin [‘Pluck’, in which Joseph seeks advice from the pages of ‘Women Are Cats, Men Are Dogs: Making Your Relationship Work’], a phantom pregnancy and a warning about the way that social embarrassment can spiral out of control [‘Expecting’], agreeing on the colour that a house should be painted [Lavender’s Blue’], a baby’s constant crying [Through the Night’, in which an exhausted mother considering her baby, Moya, understands that ‘even to use the terms night and day was misleading. Day and night were human inventions, Una realised, and Moya – a startled visitor from another planet – had never heard of them.’], vet’s fees [‘The Cost of Things’] or a guest’s night-time visit to the toilet [‘Ooops’].

The title story, previously included in the excellent compendium of Irish short stories ‘Ladies’ Night at Finbar’s Hotel’, 1999, is a rumbustious comedy describing the return of childless Dublin woman from America to obtain a jar of semen from Padraic, the husband of an old friend. However, Padraic meets a long-lost cousin working at the reception desk and from there it is laugh-out loud farce.

The characters are uniformly well drawn, enabling readers to relate readily to their situation even if it is one far from their lives or experiences. Some, like ‘Good Deed’ address an issue of global experience, a passer-by seeing an unconscious vagrant lying in the Canadian winter cold who needs medical attention, which poses the question - to get involved or to return to a warm home?

Donoghue’s sensitive handling of gay and lesbian issues are to the fore in ‘The Welcome’ [which pokes fun at the grammatical correctness of the narrator who writes a full page missive pointing out the grammatical and textural errors in a four line advertisement], Team Men’ and ‘Speaking in Tongues’. In the latter, two points of view are intertwined, that of an established poet, Sylvia Dwyer, and a teenager, Lee Maloney, but thanks to the wonders of typeface there is no confusion. In contrast, ‘Team Men’ was less convincing, the weakest offering in the collection.

The majority of these stories are between 12-20 pages and are quickly read. However, their characters and implications remain in the memory. It is evident from the writing that the characters are also meaningful to their author.
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VINE VOICEon 20 April 2012
Short stories that whet your appetite. Different perspective. Some catch you by surprise. Great book to dip into. The best of them leave you wanting them to continue in the vein.
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on 27 January 2016
Arrived promptly excellent price can't wait to start reading it.
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on 10 November 2013
This item was delivered in good time, in perfect condition and was well packaged. The ordered item was exactly as described.
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