2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Safe Haven,
This review is from: There are Little Kingdoms: Stories (Paperback)
I am in complete agreement with the earlier reviewer.
A minor cricism first of all. A couple of the stories in this quirky, fairly slim volume might one day end up in one of those anthologies of contemporary Irish short stories you're always coming across in the shops. These tend to be dominated by "fine writing", serious stuff generally with maybe the odd experimental piece or other thrown in for good measure. I rarely get through more than half of the stories and enjoy fewer. The rest provide a therapeutic outlet for venting my spleen. But they are short aren't they? However you might need to take this review with a pinch of salt.
If this collection is a little uneven why the five-star rating? That relies mainly on the three stories I found most satisfying, the opener, referred to in the earlier review, being one of them. Like the others it has, for me, an 80s feeling to it and deals with life (of a certain kind at least) in small-town Munster. It's a summer's evening and a group of lads are playing pool. There are some local girls, the owner of the premises, a local farmer (I think) and the local policeman. That's all, but this beautifully observed simple piece has beautiful comic timing and an subdued, melancholy undercurrent. It's a time and place I recognize and it rings true. Wonderful.
I can't recall the title of the second story which begins with a "quare hawk" rolling into Clonmel (where "Bulmer's Cider Welcomes You") and treats you to a miniature comic who-dunnit or who-done-what involving drink, karaoke and a fish and chip shop. The ending baffled me but the the story is expertly developed. This writer has talent.
I bought this book on the strength of a review in Magill magazine which also referred (I think) to the third outstanding story, "Breakfast Wine", as a "gem". Bang on the nail. This masterpiece alone is worth the price. It takes us inside a small bar in yet another small town where we meet the two regulars and the owner. Here the suffocating equilibrium of desperation, frustration and regret is disrupted by the sudden and unexpected arrival of a strange woman... I think this is one of my favourite short stories ever, if not my absolute favourite. In both style and subject matter it would put you in mind of Myles/ Flann O'Brien. The writing is indeed "fine" but here you can appreciate why that's a good thing for a change. It's completely flawless. (Well, if you ignore the repetition of the word "shy" at the start but I only noticed that once I'd already read it a few times.) Convincing, pathetic and so, so funny. They are still sitting there now, by the counter, listening to the world news on the radio and nodding gravely at all the disturbing reports of disaster and devastation, insulated in their alcoholic cocoon, snug in their "safe haven". It's up there with Siegfried Lenz's "So Zartlich War Suleyken" in terms of comedy or "Ar Thoir Loistin" (O Conghaile?) if you've ever heard of them.
There are other highlights too including provocative teenage twins, the Arctic Circle and a man who can see into the future.
The author is from Limerick and this is his first book. There's a picture of him on the back and he looks exactly as he should, if you know what I mean.