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Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse Paperback – 10 Nov 2006
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A performance artist opens his chest and displays his beating heart on stage. A young man walks through the hills of south-west Romania, where the locals have peculiar ideas about gold. On the morning of a medical examination, a woman tries to coax her husband off the roof. A smuggler pays off an old debt to his sister and resigns himself to a life of honest toil in the mine-shafts of his home town. A mysterious rodent named Brigitte enters the lives of two old men. And, in the astonishing long story "In the Neighbourhood", the inhabitants of a crumbling tower-block go about their business, unforgettably. The stories of Philip O Ceallaigh create a world that is utterly original and yet immediately recognizable - a world of ordinary people grappling with work and idleness, ambition and frustration, wildness and sobriety, love and lust and decay. Scabrously honest, screamingly funny and beautifully crafted, "Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse" is a brilliant debut from a writer who cannot be ignored by anyone who cares about the art of fiction.
About the Author
Philip Ó Ceallaigh, a native of County Waterford, has lived and worked in Britain, Spain, Russia, the US, Kosovo, and Georgia. He currently lives in Bucharest. Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse is his first book.
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The characters are memorable, often likeable, like his old men fixing a hole in the pavement, in the story "In the Neighbourhood" I think. The Neighbourhood appears in another story later. This is something I enjoy - the sense of links between stories, which is here to some extent.
The writing is evocative of place - some stories set in post-Communist Eastern Europe (most likely.) Others on Mediterranean Islands and, presumably, in Turkey.
The atmosphere is well-created, the dialogue is believable, and the stories captured my imagination.
Some stories have a sad feel, like the "Notes", while others have a humorous side. All were superb - I couldn't put this down.
I've just bought his other book of short stories, and can only hope it compares. I expect I'll be reading everything he writes...
Many of the stories are set in cities, and O Ceallaigh seems to have captured the urban syndrome of city dwellers extremely well, where the roar of traffic, the exhaust fumes and the dirt and dust frustrate and dominate. Indoors, people haggle over bills and speculate on the private lives of neighbours. Bathroom noises echo through the walls, a burst pipe causes havoc, and smoke from bonfires drifts endlessly past windows. The writing is raw and edgy, and masculine, much in the style of Charles Bukowski, and economical and straight up, lacking frills and padding, much like Hemingway.
And as the title suggests, there is a lot of sex in the book. For O Ceallaigh's characters sex comes a lot easier than does love; whether it be a quickie in an alleyway ('Crime and Punishment') or a ravaging of a girlfriend after a male prostitute's session with a client ('Who Let the Dogs Out?') sex is more a release of anxiety than anything approaching pleasure.
Admiration for a first literary work has one drawback, which is that there isn't anything else to enjoy by the same author; the reader regrets coming to the end of the book because there's nowhere to go, nothing to do except await the appearance of the author's next work. But very few works pack such a punch that, after reading the last page you instinctively turn to page one and begin reading the entire work again. Philip O Ceallaigh's 'Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse' had just that effect on me. Highly recommended.
However, this is a disappointment even though with its East European locations it initially promises much. In fact, arguably the best story Honey, owes more to Tobias Wolff and the American West rather than Kundera, or Eastern Europe. The principle problem with Whorehouse is that it tries to be too smart and does not pull it off. Too much post modernism, which I for one do not go for at all. In this respect, O'Ceallaigh is a bit like another Irish writer Mike McCormack (Getting it in the Head, Notes from a Coma). There is just way too much attempt at heavy philosophy and showing off and not enough good old fashioned story telling. The former in my view, rarely has much of a place in quality literary fiction. This sort of thing is better off in an essay collection or an actual work on philosophy. I often felt as though I was being preached too and that O'Ceallaigh was unnecessarily obfuscating his meaning or "the point" of the story. And don't tell me that a story - no matter how literary its purport - is not supposed to have a point. It does not have to be epiphany, but it should not be a waste of time either.