March Books 11) The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction

This is a collection of short stories, all but two of which are set in contemporary Ireland, by new Irish writers none of whom I had previously heard of (apart from one, Eileen Brannigan, who I went to school with in Belfast). The whole collection is rather a good perspective of life in Ireland today, and reminds me a bit of the way Frank O’Connor depicted the very different Ireland of the 1920s and 1930s in his stories – indeed, one or two here seemed to have direct resonances with his work, and all are in his shadow.

I wouldn’t want to push that too far, though. The difference with O’Connor and his time is that this collection has much less writing about work and religion, and much more openness about dysfunctional relationships – between men and women (now that we can admit that sex happens outside marriage, and that marriages do not always last for life), and between men (mostly) and alcohol. Sixty years ago, Michael McLaverty was able to write a funny story about the schoolteacher making poteen under the nose of the authorities; it’s difficult to imagine anyone writing a funny story centering around alcohol now.

There is another recurrent dysfunctional relationship, that between the Irish and the countryside, which kills (bodily or spiritually or both) the viewpoint characters of several of these pieces (including in Eileen Brannigan’s story). Where the writers of the mid-twentieth century were a bit suspicious of modernity and romanticised the rural virtues of the past, the writers of the early twenty-first seem to have gone the other way; the country is a dangerous, unforgiving, lonely place, and we humans mess with it at our peril.

The two least successful stories are the two set outside the present day – a vignette on the execution of Erskine Childers which can’t quite decide if it is drama or documentary, and an sfnal piece written as a far-future scholarly analysis of a nude picture of Pamela Anderson rescued from the ruins of Los Angeles, which is not as good as the description makes it sound (and that is not saying much). The others are all excellent.

I do have one fairly serious gripe with the presentation. It is not made clear what relationship these stories actually have with the Henessy Literary Awards. Apparently they were all first published in the Sunday Tribune, and thus were also somehow eligible for the Hennessy process, but I think the editors, Dermot Bolger and Ciaran Carty, could have spared a couple of sentences to clarify what the set-up is.

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1 Response to March Books 11) The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction

  1. julesjones says:

    Oooh, I hadn’t realised it was in audiobook as well. I got the paperbacks of the three Miracle Day prequels, and was very impressed with this one, as I have been with all of Goss’s TW work I’ve read so far.

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