Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 - A Look at the month on The Reading Life

March was dominated by the forth year of Irish Short Story Month.  (I will continue with that in April). Several authors contributed excellent Q and A sessions and short stories. I am very grateful to them.   More are coming.

Books I posted on

1.  Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
2.  They Were Found Wanting by Milkos Banfky.
3.  The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry
4.  Censors at Work:  How States Shape Literature by Robert Darnton
5.  Penelope Fitzgerald - A Life by Hermione Lee
6.  Out of the Ruins by Sue Guiney.

Books I read but did not post on
1.  Emma by Jane Austin.
Plus two books on improving your writing style in fiction
2.  The First Draft by John Casey
3. A Life in Sentences by Jenny Davidson 

I also continued reading  more short stories.

My blog has 3288 Twitter Followers.  In March I had 102,572 hits, since inception, 2,567,815. There are 2127 published posts.  

Top Countries are

Most viewed posts  continues to be those on older short stories from the Philipines, followed by posts on Katherine Mansfield and R. K. Narayan.

I offer my humble thanks to all commentators and contributors. I thank the authors and publishers for the free books.  

Mel u. 


"The Lost Seed" by Emma Donoghue (2012)

I liked the Emma Donoghue story, "The Gift", which posted on two days ago that I decided to read the remaining story by her in the same anthology.  Like "The Gift" it is historical fiction set in the United States.  "Lost Seed" takes place in the first Puritan colonies, the school in America version of these colonies is that they came seeking religious freedom.  The more complicated truth is that they wanted the freedom to practice terrible religious oppression and the right to impose their sexual morals on all others.  Deviation from the rules often meant death.  

The story is told in the very well realized person of an unmarried man who totally believes in the rigid sexual laws of the colony.    He desperately wants a wife but the women, girls to us, either do not suit him or don't want him.   He has turned in several people to the authorities for real or imagined sexual acts he has seen them doing while looking in their windows.  He wants them banned or executed.  Soon no one will speak to him.  

I won't spoil the perfect ending of this story for you.  I read this story and "The Gift" in this high value anthology.

Mel u

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"The House of Mourning" by Desmond Hogan A look at page one and two after reading "Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes

 " in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author." - Roland Barthes.

Shauna Gilligan Lead Article for The Reading Life Desmond Hogon Project


I have been reading Desmond Hogan for two years now.  I take his work very seriously.  I was first introduced to his work by Shauna Gilligan, PhD, author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  Through her kindness I met Hogan in May of last year, at the office of Lilliput Press.  We spoke of two authors for whom we share great admiration, Nathaneal West and Zora Hurston, among other things.  

Recently I read two very historically important articles partially devoted to the primacy of the reader 
over the writer. Roland Barthes in "The Death of the Author" set off a war still being fought in the academy.   Susan Sontag, I have previously ponderd where Hogan would fall in her tripartite analyses of serious art, was some what a disciple of French deconstructivists and her classic essay "Against Iterpretation" can be seen as an expansion of the ideas of Barthes.  I have said over and over I am treating Hogan's work as found objects, as a reader I am not interested in him as a person.  This is not a slight but my highest mark of respect.  I also will at times treat his corpus as a single object.  In the school of literary analyses of Barthes and Sontag, the most philistine of blunders are to search for a meaning, to try to discern the author's intent or to reverse engineer his stories as autobiography,  to see a real difference in form and content.  Of course literary overriding theories cannot be, nor need they be, evaluated as true or false but as useful or not.  If we follow Sontag, and repudiate the interpretation of the stories of Hogan, as I think we should, what can someone who writes about them or teaches them have to offer us? I will arrogantly try begin to partially answer that question.

In this post, I will, mostly for me, look at the use if nouns in page one of Hogan's "The House of Mourning".  I think we can see how this, and others of his stories, work to invoke lives and lived worlds.

Here are nouns, proper and common on the first page of this thirteen page story.  I will attempt to comment on how I think they function in the mechanics and structure  of "The House of Mourning". I think images in Hogan's work invoke picture in our act of reading and force us to make often deep and far reaching cultural connections.  

Hadrian's Wall- this is the first proper noun in the story.  As I pondered why, I thought of a colonial invasion that destroyed an ancient culture but spared Ireland.  I quickly learned from other proper nouns on page one this was a set in Ireland story.  You must reflect at this point that the Roman militaristic culture that destroyed a tribal society helped create a mentality in England that would colonize and rob for centuries another tribal society, Ireland.  The wall was designed to keep out barbarians an

Irish Place Names-  I think these serve to geo-locate the stories and may carry a cultural weight I am not fully deified upon - Shannon Estuary, the Shannon near a holy river.  Limerick City- a place now one of the biggest strongholds of the Irish language.  Traveller Boys- I have talked a good bit about how I see the references to Travellers function in Hogan's stories.  

Animals- The Mink - I did a bit of research on the mink in Ireland.  I saw there are serious controversies about mink farming, minks eating salmon eggs, and the rights of an ancient animal to run free.  

geese- clearly meant to invoke freedom, the ancient flight of the Geese.

Arabian Horses- I think this is meant to give us a sense of wild beauty, perhaps that can be controlled by the Irish and it brings to mind Galway Horse Markets

Out of Ireland Geographic references
Barbados -  in Irish history this brings up the transportation of the Irish to work as slaves on British plantations.  
Canada-  an image of a better life?  An emigrants home that is not America?  
European- an older deeper culture than the English? 

Common nouns

Little girls- is this meant to invoke innocence with them on Pogo Sticks?  This is, to me, a very ambiguous reference.  For now I will let it stand for itself.

There are a lot of what might call catalogues of debris in Hogan's stories and there is an important set of common nouns devoted to this.  

Ladies Sling Shoes, statues of herons and a life  size plastic statue of a horse are among the trash.

So we begin page one with a reference to Hadrian's Wall, heavily frought with associations and end it with references to kitsch statues and shoes designed to mishape the natural carriage of a woman.

I will do similar posts on more pages.  In the next post on this story I will ponder what we can use from Sontag's "Against Iterpretation".  I might also ponder if her claims make sense if pressed or should we just,which is not a criticism, see how they can help us in our reading of Hogan.

Of course in treating stories as do those in the Barthes tradition do, as found objects we do assume they are in English, the words have common associations, a human wrote them etc so we are already interpreting when we start.  

Upon completion of my posts on this story, I will combine my posts into one and perhaps draw some conclusions on the ideas of Barthes and Sontag.  After all they are dead.  Sontag knows she is sort of rhetorically protected from challenges as to question her is to do the forbidden by the saints of modern literary studies, act of finding a meaning in what she says.  

Page two

Continuing on with this project here are some of the nouns from page two.  Latter on in this post I will talk a bit about how i am trying to apply the methods of Eric Auerbach to this story, how I am attempting to delve into the mechanics of this story.  I accept much of the import of the notion of the death of the author.  This does not mean we cannot attempt to see creative methods and values in the story, only that that is our source.   I have talked before about the many seemingly off cultural references in the corpus of Hogan.  Learning from Edward Said and Auerbach I think we can see how Hogan's method deviates but derives from deeply cultured methods of European masters from Homer to Proust.  

North Limerick - closer geo locating

Sulky - Irish horse tradition

Tittuping Scarlett - a description of a horse, 

Mushrooms- earth food

Cinereous mare's tale- description of a woman hair as if it were from a horse

Place references-  Kerry, North Shannon

Druids- ancient Ireland - half myth half real

St Patrick

Richard Edwards- music star who disappeared 

Welsh Ladies' house.  Closed in reference

Marlene Dietrich - androngeounes dominating German actress.    



Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Land of the Living Skies" a short story by John Duffy

I first became acquainted with the work of John Duffy in December of 2012 when I read and posted on his excellent short story, "Death Road".  Here is part of my reaction to his exciting story.

"You might have seen a National Geographic Channel program about the terribly dangerous road through the Andes in Bolivia that the narrator in this story crosses in a bus ride sure to scare anyone out of their wits who is not from there.   The first person speaker is an Irishman out for an adventure in the wilds of South America and he happens to hook up with a beautiful and delightful sounding "French girl of Lebanese extraction".   Some cynics say the reason the English conquered India was because they could do things and have adventures there that they could never do at home.   I think that is part of the deeper theme of this very interesting marvelously cinematic story.    As I read the account of the bus trip on the world's most dangerous road, the slightest miss turn takes the bus over a cliff and the chickens on the bus I thought of the pretty scary and dangerous cross island buses of the Philippines.  

I was able to pretty directly relate to this story as I have also traveled in the back roads of Latin America on roads not much better than the one talked about in this story.

The best part of the story is the wonderful account of the bus trip and the descriptions of the Bolivian Indian women in their bowler hats.   Their description reminded me very much of experiences I have had in the highland of Guatemala, often considered the most beautiful place in the world.

I think one think also sought in this great work is a contact with a wilder, darker, more dangerous beauty than Ireland can provide the narrator."

My full post is here.

Duffy's very interesting Q and A can be found at the link below.

I also had the honor of publishing an earlier story of John Duffy, "Encounter With Bingo"

"Land of Living Skies"

By John Duffy


A lamentation of swans paddled up the South Saskatchewan River. They ducked their heads and long curved necks under water in turns. The water sparkled, an aquatic blue reflection in the afternoon sun and the distant hum of traffic crossing University Bridge did little to break the peace. I left the Meewasin trail and walked to central Saskatoon. A brisk wind on 2nd Avenue fluttered the leaves of the young maple trees along the sidewalk. I was on my way to meet Adam, a potential roommate for an apartment I was renting. He had been recommended to me by a work colleague who thought we’d get along well. I went into Wilson’s Bar to wait for him. The barmaid, a pony-tailed brunette with a pleasant smile and traffic light earrings served me at the counter.

‘Do you need a menu?’ she asked. 

‘No thanks. A glass of Czech Pilsner please.’

Adam arrived at the arranged time and we shook hands. Hwore a white striped shirt inside ablack jacket, khaki pants and dress shoes. His fair hair was slicked back and he had a slight gap between his front teeth.      

‘Rolling Rock please,’ he called to the barmaid.

‘How’s it going?’ I asked. ‘You made it up alright.’

‘Damn right man, no trouble at all.’

‘We can go to the apartment whenever we’re finished here,’ I suggested.

‘Right on. It’s a basement?’

‘It’s a basement. The kitchen is new and the carpets are clean.’

‘No problem. A basement wouldn’t be my favorite situation but I’ll settle for it. I’ve had a long drive today and I’ll be happy to get some rest.’

‘How about you? How are things going?’

‘It’s going well. I work twelve hour days and in the evenings I’ve been shopping around for furniture and things for the kitchen. It’s not easy without wheels. It takes time.’

‘Well I’ve got a car, man. I’ve got a car parked right down the street there. We can gowherever and whenever we want, no problem.’

‘A car would be useful for sure.’ I returned.

He looked over his shoulder, though there was nobody else around us. I waited for him to continue.

‘I just got out of the can a few weeks ago man. I could have done something in there, waited for some fuck to say something, then mess him up. Bam. I’d be locked up in solitary. Fuck it. I don’t give a fuck. But no, I’ve got a girlfriend, Julie, and she got me out, just thinking about her. I stayed in the shadows and I never ratted anyone out. I wrote some poetry and I helped some guys write letters. Man I saw some messed up shit. But it’s all good. It’s a clean break for me now, damn right.’

He nodded and took a drink. I tried to see beyond what he was saying. He reminded me of a character from an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The one with Richard Paine, thestruggling job seeker. He has no money to pay the rent and his lady is stressed because they are about to be evicted from their apartment.

Yeah, it’s a rat race, alright.

Adam had the same look in his eye and I had an inkling I would play a supporting role of some description in the new show, weather I liked it or not.                                                                                                                    

A waitress wearing a short tartan skirt and a white blouse walked past with a tray of Shepherd’s Pies and drinks.  

‘There’s some good looking women in this town man, first rate so far.’

‘Saskatoon shines.’

I went to the back for a few moments alone. When I returned he pulled on his jacket and we left the bar. He walked the walk, a confident swagger, cut you as quick as he’d look at you. The tightness and tension around his shoulders and upper back. We went to his car, parked nearby, a black Plymouth Road Runner with silver rims. The interior, a worn leather finish.

He sat in the driver’s seat and lit a cigarette.

‘I bought this motor for three thousand bucks man. What do you think?’

‘She’s a classic. We’ll easily outrun the Coyote.’

We drove to the apartment where he unpacked eight bottles of water and a box of Strip Natural Cleanser on the kitchen counter.

‘I have to take a Drug and Alcohol test tomorrow. This mix should do the trick.’  

He looked around the apartment and rubbed his hands together.

‘Yes Sir-e, this should be good enough. But we have to make sure the windows stay locked, man. If there’s some fuck sniffing around outside and he sees a new Plasma TV hanging on the wall, he’s going to be in and out of here in two shakes of a Terriers tail. Damn right.’

He peered out the window and then pulled it open.

‘Did you see that? Did you see how easily I did that? It’s no different from the outside man. I’m going to buy me a Louisville Slugger tonight and that’s a top priority.’

He turned from the window, cupped his hands together and then took a swing, as though hitting a homerun.

‘Do you play baseball Adam?’  

‘No, man. The bat stays under my bed. If anyone breaks in here, they’re going to get it. Wham.’

He walked back across the room, rotating his arm in a circle, looking down at some imaginary intruder on the floor.

‘Hmm, let’s see here, what am I going to break first? The knee caps, the hands or the head? Hold on, man. Bear spray, that’s another good one, matter of fact that’s probably all we’ll need in here. I used to carry this big crossbow around, then buddy said, ‘you don’t need that man, all you need is a can of bear spray’ and he was right, damn right. I can take a man down from fifteen feet away with bear spray. Bam. Drop him like a fly. It’s called Grizzly. We’ll get some later. Come on, let’s go to the store.”

I locked the door behind us and we went down the hallway.

‘We don’t know if the apartment will be broken into Adam. If we keep it locked I can’t see a problem.’

‘A confident outlook, man. I tend to hope for the best and expect the worst.’  

I took some deep breaths outside and felt a mild relief pass over me. A warm breeze blew between the apartment blocks over the green, raising the red and yellow leaves from the grass. We drove west on 22nd street toward the outskirts of town. The sun was setting in front of us, a great orange ball. Adam played music from his phone, ‘Drive South’ from John Hiatt. He sang along like a free man and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.

While we waited at a red light by Avenue P, a white Ford, Super Duty truck drove across the intersection. It slowed to a crawl and the driver looked in our direction. He completed the turn and then drove past. I looked back. The truck had stopped again and was mounting the dividing intersection, coming back inside our lane a few cars behind. I heard car horns and screeching tyres.

‘Hey Adam, do you know those people in the white truck?’

He looked in the rear view mirror.

‘I don’t know them.’

The lights switched to green and he floored the accelerator. The engine rumbled and our speed increased. As we crossed the intersection with Avenue W the car hit a bump and went airborne.

‘Slow down Adam, before we kill someone.’

He paid no attention to me.  I looked back. The Ford truck loomed large and menacing behind us. I felt nauseous and I wanted to go home. There were no airbags fitted in the Road Runner, a twenty-year-old model at least. Ahead the traffic was backed up. He hit the brakes and we slowed behind a line up. In the outside lane some cars moved toward a slip road. He drove to the outside lane and attempted to squeeze the car in between two vehicles. I heard car horns and breaking glass. The lights switched to green and traffic moved forward, allowing the Ford truck to drive alongside us. The passenger window lowered and a figure emerged wearing a ski mask and holding something wrapped in a pink towel. Ra-ta-tat-tat-tat. Our front windscreen cracked and smashed and then the driver’s window split. Ra-ta-tat-tat-tat.


I opened the door while the car was moving and jumped out. hit the road hard with my shoulderand rolled on to the grass verge. My hands had cuts and small stones embedded in the skin. Adam drove through the intersection. The car clipped the side of an arctic lorry on the other side of the road before crashing into a public light pole. Our attackers turned and sped away, leaving black smoke and the smell of burning rubber. I ran across the road and opened the driver’s door.Adam sat inside with broken glass on his lap and patches of blood on his shirt. He held a cell phone in one hand and his neck with the other. Blood trickled through his fingers from a neck wound.

‘Adam, they drove away, you’re safe now. There’s a hospital near here, we can get help. Come on if you can, good man.’  

He took my hand and I helped him from the car, but his knees gave way and he stumbled to the ground.’

‘It’s OK, take it easy.’  

A pedestrian in a panic ran toward us and offered help. I asked him to call an ambulance. We letAdam lie by the roadside. I took off my shirt and tried to stem the flow from his neck. Blood seeped through to my hands, sticky and wet. He turned his head and spat.

‘Make sure those windows stay locked man.’

‘I will Adam, don’t worry. ’

A group of Native American boys cycled toward us and gathered round. Their bicycles reminded me of the BMX, popular in my youth. One boy hopped from the back of a bicycle and stood next to us.  

‘Buddy looks messed up man. Will he be OK?’

‘Buddy’s a fighter,’ I replied. ‘He’ll be OK.’

He turned to his friends and spoke something in Cree. I could not understand the language buthis tone did not sound hopeful. The sound of ambulance sirens carried over every other sound and traffic slowed to make way. Two medics, a woman and a man dressed in high visibility suits hurried to us with a stretcher and medical bag. I let them know Adam had been shot. The woman spoke with him briefly and he whispered responses. She placed a blanket over him and her assistant strapped a mask to his face.

‘I will follow you to the hospital Adam. Don’t worry about the car.’

He nodded and closed his eyes.

Deep filtered sounds seemed to reach me from a great distance; passing traffic, people’s voices and a cell phone ringing. A police car with flashing red and blue lights came to a stop beside us, bringing its own sense of urgency and responsibility. I thought about walking away. I could catch a cab to Wilson’s and wash my hands, pretend nothing happened. I would order some whiskey there, with a slice of lemon and cloves to taste, but it was too late to act on the idea. A group of pedestrian’s spoke with the police and someone pointed in my direction. I laid back on the grass embankment. Far above, a flock of Canadian Geese were in flight. Some of the birds flew quickly and some dropped back until they gradually formed a V formation, in sync with each other. A feathered arrowhead, piercing the orange-silver veil of light above the prairies, above the great fields of cut grass and round bales, over the golden wheat fields and Provincial Lake Park, toward the heart of the vast red horizon. By the hard shoulder of 22nd street, the Road Runner, abandoned, at an angle to the street, the engine running and a trail of broken glass beside it. The registration plate, some numbers and letters, Saskatchewan, Land of Living Skies.            





 John Duffy is the sole owner of this story.  It is protected under international copy right laws and cannot be published in any fashion without his approval.

I am very grateful to John for allowing me to share this story with my readers.  I look forward to reading much more of his work in the future.

Mel u

"The Gift" by Emma Donoghue (2012)

I have previously read and posted on several short stories by Emma Donoghue (Dublin, 1969) and her novel about an Air India hostess, Landings.  I was very happy to find two of her short stories included in an anthology of short stories I have. 

"The Gift" is a an epistolatory short story.  This is not a format one sees much at all so I was very curious to read the story.  It begins in March 1877 in New York City, a single mother writers a letter to a children's home telling them her heart breaks but she must give them custody of her daughter for whom she cannot care.  I was fascinated by the letters from the home to the mother in which we could see the daughter slowly develop.   We also can follow the life of the mother as she marries and tries to get her daughter back.  A wonderful loving couple on a farm in Iowa adopt the girl and we see her develop.   There is great sadness in the story as we see the great pain in the letters of her mother but the great gift of true asking for nothing in return love given to the daughter by her adoptive parents was deeply moving.  

I have a copy of her historical novel Slammerkin and I hope to read it soon.  

Mel u

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)

This is my first time ever to read Muriel Spark's very famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  I have seen the movie several times on cable so I knew the general plot line of a teacher at a private school  in pre-WW Two  Scotland, sympathetic to the Fascists in Italy and Hitler in the early years whose teaching methods were unconventional.  Every year she would select a few pupils as "her girls" and try to truly educate them.  To me part of the immense pleasure in reading this very insightful and at times hilarious novel was in seeing how Miss Brodie's girls perceived her and especially her relationships with two male teachers.  I think part of my enjoyment of this book arose from my having three daughters and wondering how they would react to Miss Brodie.  This is not a long book, the prose is a consistent delight, the satire is really well done and the characters are marvelously developed.  I am so glad I have at last read this book.

I was given a free review copy.

Mel u

"The Sound of Swallows" by Shauna Gilligan, PhD (from The Stinging Fly, Spring, 2014)

""They've gone and what's left of them is made of twigs and mud: nests empty and useless".

I first became acquainted with the work of Shauna Gilligan during Irish Short Story Month Year Two.  since then I have posted on a number of her short stories and her wonderful debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  At her suggestion I first began to read the work of Desmond Hogan and she did a very illuminating post on him for my blog.  She has also done a very interesting and informative Q and A I urge all to read.  

Today I want to post briefly on her very powerful short story, "The Sound of Swallows" which can be found in the Spring 2014 issue of The Stinging Fly.  The Stinging Fly is a leading world class publisher of literary works.  

As I read on in Irish literature I see more and more, of course people see what they can and want to see, certain pervasive themes recurring over and over.  An obsession with, almost a love, for death, not so much one's own, but that of those we love.  Only when a person is dead does the fluidity of our experience of them come to an end.  I also see a fascination with cycles of futility, recurring pain and loss whose only value maybe in the wisdom gained from observing them.  I also see a strong pattern of works depicting the impact of repressed emotions blocking relationships growing beyond limited starts, relationships that long term bring mostly pain. I also see as a strong theme that of the weak or missing father married to a smothering mother.  I see, learning from Edward Said and his disciple Declan Kiberd, a working out of the legacy of colonialism. These are not just old ideas from long ago. I read this week Sebastian Barry's forthcoming novel, The Temporary Gentleman and these themes dominate it.     All of this can be seen in Gilligan's five page "The Sound of Swallows".

The story is being published today in The Stinging Fly.  I am not inclined too much to recap the plot but I will just talk a bit about how it exemplifies the themes I have spoken about above and numerous times.  The story covers some twenty years in the life of the woman narrating the story. First her father dies from cancer at which point her mother throws her temporarily out of the house, only to become dependent on the daughter.  The narrator had a mildly sexual relationship with another woman, Maribel when in her late teens.  The narrator conceives a child in a one night encounter with what seems a very decent man to whom she gave a false phone number.  The man is forced into the role of unknown missing father in the life of the child.  Then her mother dies. After a twenty year hiatus, she moved it seems to Denver, Maribel returns.  The narrator tries to see in her the beauty she once had.  Beauty lost is one of Ireland's grand themes.   The ending is profoundly sad.  The close powerfully sums up the themes I have ruminated upon.

my q and a with Shauna Gilligan 

My post on Happiness Comes from Nowhere

I hope to read much more of Gilligan.  I strongly endorse her novel, which I think may become a classic. 

Mel u


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry (2014)


The Temporary Gentleman is  story of the life of an Irishman who serves as an officer in the British Army during World War Two, hence making him a temporary gentleman.  This is the second book by Barry I have had the great pleasure of reading.  Last November I read and posted on his set partially in a Sligo mental hospital, The Secret Scripture.  Maybe by a slight margin I preferred The Temporary Gentleman but for sure I endorse reading both of them. 

John "Jack" McNulty is in Accra, Ghana, 1957, working as an observer for the United Nations.   He is desperately trying to write his life story.  He was a bomb disposal officer during WWII and since then had worked as an observer for the U.N, mostly in Ghana.  The Temporary Gentleman is another story of the Irishman as a weak and missing father, both he and the love of his life, wife and mother of his neglected children are badly addicted to alcohol.  The character of the wife, Mai from Sligo, is at the heart of the novel.  Jack's love for her coupled with his inability to understand her, are masterfully shown to us.  She is a tragic character, her life destroyed by alcohol.  

To me, The Temporary Gentleman is very much a post colonial novel about the weak father, about lives destroyed by drink, about Irish perceptions of another post colonial world in Ghana.  Jack orientalizes the residents of Ghana with whom he has contact, much as the English did the Irish. 
I hope to reread this book one day.

I was given a free review copy of this book.

Mel u

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Joy and the Law" by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1961, translation forthcoming by Stephen Twilley, 2014)

In the last few months I have been reading in the works of the great European Aristocrats of 20th century literature.  Among writers like Stefan Zweig, Gregor Von Rozzi, Joseph Roth, Marcel Proust, and his fellow Italian, Curzio Malaparte must be counted Giuseppe Lampedusa, author of The Leopord.  I was recently very kindly given The Professor and the Siren by The New York Review of Books, a collection of three short works of fiction by Lampedusa, translated by Stephen Twilley, to be published later this year.  One of the selections, "Joy and the Law" was less than ten pages long so I decided I should make that my first Lampodusa experience. 

"Joy and the Law" opens on a bus with a clerk in a law office on the way home from work.  He has just gotten his annual Christmas bonus.  Lampedusa does a masterful job of letting us feel the difficult struggle to live that the clerk and his wife have.  This bonus, pretty substantial for him, will pay his past due rent and allow his wife to settle a lot of market bills.  I really liked the description of the apartment building in which they live.  You can feel the quiet desperation.  His boss is a haughty former fascist official.  Though either merit or an act of pity, he won an award as best employee of the year, a giant cake.  He and his wife get in a fight over what to do with the cake.  He wants the family to enjoy it on Christmas Day, she says he must give it to an attorney who sometimes hires him for extra work.  There is some funny and telling family drama over the cake.

"Joy and the Law" for sure left me wanting to read more Lampodusa.  I will start with the two forty or so page works in this collection and the hopefully get to his master work, The Leopard.  Please share your experience with the author with us. 

Mel u

Monday, March 24, 2014

"The Collector" a short story by Dave Lordan's author of The First Book of Frags

Today I am very happy to be able to share with my readers a short story by Dave Lordan.  I first became acquainted with his work when I read his The First Book of Frags.  Here are some of my thoughts on it.

The Frags in The First Book of Frags by Dave Lordan are really amazing reads, very original, more than a bit demented, and they will for sure make you laugh and at times gasp in a mixture of shock and delight.  There are things to offend almost everyone in these Frags.  There is really a tremendous lot in these works to like and enjoy and they will certainly make you think.  I will concede the ultra prudish might be offended and I think they are supposed to be by how women are treated.   This a deeply creative book.  The frags at times do not have so much of a consciously created feel but seem as if they were dictations from the consciousness of a wired for destruction Ireland.  The frags do exhibit the themes I have talked of this month.  Namely those of the weak or absent Irish father, the escape in drink and now cocaine, the way in which the Irish hide behind the persona of the stage Irish, and the way in which Irish literature feeds upon itself, which is part of why it is so rich.   

My post on The First Book of Frags is here

The Collector

By Dave Lordan

A few weeks after the artist’s so-called stroke a collector came to the rehabilitation unit to parley.

I have been collecting you for thirty-two years, the collector said, since the very beginning. 

The collector opened a briefcase and took out his several items, laying them out carefully on the coffee table for the purposes of display. He was aiming to jog the artist’s memory of who he was before the stroke and return him to self-consciousness and the living world.

The artist had not yet recovered his tongue. His hands were paralyzed. The medics assumed he had completely forgotten who he was.  

The collector read from index cards to explain each item as he was going along:

Identifying Item A: Cassette tape, tape decayed and unplayable, label in faded and indecipherable red biro. Belonging to the late 70’s ‘early juvenilia’ era. Retrieved from hired skip in 1999. Indicating known interest in ‘alternative’ popular music of the time. Also evidence of famed early proclivity towards bohemian criminal activities, many now legal, and knowledge of/employment of alternative distribution channels. Traces of seventeen people’s DNA on the cassette tape, seven females, ten males. Small traces also of sperm, shit, menstrual blood.

The artist wanted to tell him that he had never been a bohemian, that that was a middle-class, city-dwellers thing. He was always a punk of the outskirts. The songs he liked - especially when he was pissed - were angry, not maudlin,. He didn’t smoke his drugs buzz either. He snorted it, like a good little punk.

Identifying Item B: Shard from a pint-bottle of Harp Lager. Circa 1981. Reputed to be from the bottle which held subject’s first ever alcoholic drink. Of importance because of later descent into stage three alcoholism, the experience of which forms basis for first successful works. Purchased from subject’s mother in The Bernard Shaw.

It was in fact the artist’s aunty, a premium dipso, posing as his mother to get herself stood free drinks in a bar where she had sniffed out a gullible artsy crowd. At the time She had been reported missing in her adopted home-sty of Dudley, where she had not been seen for a week. But the artist couldn’t tell the collector this.

Identifying Item C: Photograph of badly-built Snowman. In an interview subject described this photograph as his ‘aesthetic manifesto’. Subject said that the true subject of the photograph was ‘my first serious girlfriend with whom I was very much in love at the time. She is in the photograph, but she is invisible within it. She is hidden behind the snowman, her near-perfect beauty concealed and disfigured by the snowbeing’s shoddy and disintegrating facade. In my work I foreground ugliness in order to shelter beauty. The conditions are not right in our time for the revelation of beauty. We must wait, so that when we do uncover beauty, it will not be immediately  appropriated and therefore inverted and destroyed. To throw the beauty-hunters off, beauty must be concealed behind a show of rottenness. Those artists who reveal beauty in our era are offering it up for sacrifice. In Byzantium, where I live, such artists are considered traitors and will be tried as such when the time comes’. Photograph taken in Cummer Graveyard January 1987. Donation to the collection from Author.

Even if he could have told the collector, the artist would not have told him that every fancy aesthetic statement he ever made was just ad copy for himself. He was aping those who gave good interview, as it seemed such an integral part of success.  In the art-world you can talk like you are out of your tree all time and get admired for it instead of avoided or locked up. The artist was as loquaciously insincere on art as he was on anything else.  He could believe in nothing, yet, with his eloquence, could express almost everything. 

The paradox of consciousness: there is knowledge but nothing to know. The paradox of language: there are words but there is nothing to say. 

Identifying Item D. Medical Report from Mater Private Hospital 2011. Clean bill of health save two minor items. Hypertension, for which 5mg Ramillo has been prescribed and is being near-effective. And a slightly overactive thyroid gland, leading to occasional diarrhea, agitation, anxiety and low-level weight loss. Thyroid to be monitored every six months. Doctor’s signature indecipherable. Stolen by a hospital porter, an obsessive fan of the subject. Later retrieved by Gardai. Then misplaced by Gardai. Bought by private treaty from nightclub bouncer on Leeson Street.

It’s fake, the artist silently shouts at the collector. The police are country’s most sophisticated thieves and counterfeiters. How can he not know that? Every painting in the national gallery was painted by a cop. The real ones are stored in Barbados, and  sold off at secret billionaire auctions in Trinidad.

Identifying Item E...

But at this stage the nurse intervened by announcing it was time for rest and meds and for the collector to leave. As she opened the room door to usher him out the artist saw that there was a queue of collectors as long as an x-factor audition in Blanchardstown waiting to offer up  excreta of the artist’s existence, in the hope of being the one who could claim to have found the key piece that put him back together again. Imagine what that piece would be worth at auction? 

The artist wondered how long he would have to wait for the collector with whom the arrangement had been made to arrive in. To this collector he would suddenly and rapturously speak his memory, his hyper-inflating sentences of miracle recovery.

He was proud, and felt a kind of haughty pity for the collector he had just seen, and pity for all the other ignoramuses in the hall. Surely some among them would eventually realise that it was the artist who had been collecting them all along.

This story is protected under international copyright and cannot be published in any format without the approval of the author.


Dave Lordan is a writer, editor and creative writing workshop leader based in Dublin who has been shaking up the irish writing scene with his passionate, risk-taking writing since the early noughties. He is the first writer to win Ireland’s three national prizes for young poets, the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2005, the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award in 2008 and the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award in 2011 for his collections The Boy in The Ring and Invitation to a Sacrifice, both published by Salmon. In 2010 Mary McEvoy starred in his debut play Jo Bangles at the Mill Theatre, directed by Caroline FitzgeraldWurm Press published his acclaimed short fiction debut First Book of Frags in 2013. Also in 2013, in association with RTÉ Arena and New Island Books, he designed and led Ireland’s first ever on-air creative writing course. He also edited the anthology New Planet Cabaret in association with RTÉ Arena and New Island books, as well as Issue 22 of The Stinging Fly, Ireland’s leading literary magazine, for which he is a contributing editor.  He is also co-prose editor of the transgenre experimental arts website He recently designed and led the Heart in Mouth community writing festival in association with Fingal Libraries, and the Wraparound perfomance poetry and creative literacy programme in Irish secondary schools in association with Poetry Ireland and the JCSP school libraries programme. He teaches contemporary poetry and critical theory on the MA in poetry studies in the Mater Dei Institute as well as providing teacher training courses in Teaching Creativity there and elsewhere. He teaches a workshop in experimental fiction for the Irish Writers Centre and creative writing for Co Wicklow VEC and the Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin. Alongside creative collaborator Karl Parkinson, he makes up the popular performance poetry duo Droppin The Act and he is a renownedly passionate performer of his own work which he continues to read at festivals and venues in Ireland, England, Italy and Canada. Follow him @vadenadrol

My Q and A with Dave Lordan

My great thanks to Dave Lordan for his contribution to ISSM4.


"The Star Child" by Oscar Wilde (1888)

The cultural importance of Oscar Wilde is immense.  He is world wide an Iconic figure whose Portrait of  Dorian Gray (1890) and The Importance of Being Ernest helped create the Camp sensibility.   If you have not read his two most famous works, then try to do so as soon as you can.  I first read Portrait of Dorian Gray maybe fifty years ago and I still remember thinking how marvelous it must be to know people who actually talk like that.  I never dreamed I would one day reread it in fifty years.   I so wish I had a fifty year old blog post to look back on.  One of the truest rewards to younger bloggers will, I hope, be this ability.  My understanding of Wilde has been greatly informed by my reading of Declan Kiberd's chapter on his work, "Oscar Wilde - The Irishman as Artist" in Declan Kiberd's Inventing Ireland -  The Literature of the Modern Nation.  

Wilde wrote a lot of short works of fiction, some in the style of fairy tales.  I have posted over the years on several of them.  "The Star Child" was a great pleasure to read.  It is accurate to call it a fairy tale written to be read by children with a moral lesson as its main point.  It does manifest some of the main themes of Wilde's more important works (I am not sure that without the main works his fairy tales would still be much read).  It deals with the nature of beauty, one could easily look below the surface in this and many other works and ponder why an ugly person is at once seen as evil and a beautiful one kind.  Think The Wizard of Oz witches. 

One day a poor man sees a star fall and goes to the spot it landed.  He finds a beautiful baby and brings him home to his wife who goes crazy and says they don't need another mouth to feed, they already have plenty of children.  Never the less they raise him and he is very beautiful.  He is very proud of his looks, disdaining all who admire him.  One day an ugly old beggar old begger woman asks him for money, he abusively refuses her.  He is then transformed into a very ugly person. 

I will stop telling the plot here as the story is so much worth reading.  One of Wilde's themes is that people are often of several natures. 

The basic themes of Wilde are in this story.  It would be an excellent class room, ten and above, story and should prompt good conversations. 

You can read it here

Please share your favorite Wilde shorter works with us.