Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Smattering of Irish Stories

March had me really missing Ireland, wishing I was there, and thus reading Irish literature as a way to make do.  I finished a small assortment of Irish books, and felt like I'd keep finding more, but I think the craving may have receded for a while.

After owning it for 2 years (and having it partially read for just about as long) I have finally finished reading the stories in this volume. While many of the stories left me ambivalent or disappointed, there were a few standouts that I was very glad to have read. As a group, I think they made an interesting Irish portrait. Two authors I especially enjoyed, and anticipate reading more from, were Dermot Bolger and Orfhlaith Foyle.  

I was disappointedly not as enraptured with my first tastes of Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann, or Colm Toibin as I'd hoped I'd be.

"These mornings when I wake up - no longer even caring if I wake up - I feel oddly free. It's a terrible freedom, but it's the freedom that comes from knowing there is nothing more that life can do to you, that fate can have no more tricks up its sleeve.  I'm numb with grief, Maureen, I don't know if I'll ever feel warm again.  But I'm afraid of nothing now.  My sleepless nights are over because there is nothing left for life to snatch away from me." Winter, by Dermot Bolger

Ireland by Frank Delaney is a book that always caught my eye in the book store, so I finally received it through PaperbackSwap sometime last year, and then I ended up listening to it on Audible just recently.  Actually, it was a much more drawn out process than "recently" implies.  It was narrated by the author himself, and - though he has much experience reading aloud - wasn't very engaging.  The recording was some 20 hours long (thank goodness for being able to speed up the narrator's voice) and felt that long - and longer.

In the end there was much to appreciate, but I felt that Ronan's story was too bogged down by the lengthy "histories" that were the real point of the story.  The stories themselves weren't connected enough or interesting enough to keep me going.  Only the fact that it was on audio (and therefore multi-task-able) got me through it.  Makes me loathe to try his other titles, even if they are all about Ireland.

Sebastian Barry always writes beautifully.  If you are in the mood for some contemplative, gorgeous prose, pick up a Sebastian Barry novel.  His novel of WWI (A Long Long Way) is one of my most favorite books, and in fact, little Annie Dunne appeared in that novel, as she was the sister of the main character.  In this novel, life has passed her by for the most part, and we are treated to a portrait of her aged self.

Most of what I've read from Barry (this was my 4th novel) has a perfect (for me) balance of plot and sparkling composition, but Annie Dunne was definitely lacking a bit on the plot side—even for me, which is saying something!  I actually began reading it last autumn, and just now picked it up to finish it.  It took a level of focus I've found difficult to harness lately.

Still, I'd recommend giving Barry a try.  As a first foray I'd recommend The Secret Scripture, as I remember it being a tad more plot-driven.  And as always, I'm up for recommendations also!


  1. Interesting! I'm unfamiliar with Irish literature, so thanks for the reviews.

  2. Sebastian Barry's writing is beautiful. I'll have to try The Secret Scripture. Annie was one of my favorite characters in A Long Long Way.

  3. I miss my Ireland so, so much, every day... Feel like I would love New Irish Short Stories! Thanks for the recommendation.


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