Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Make Yourself at Home by Ciara Geraghty



404 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins

Blurb

 It’s the last place she wants to be. It’s the only place left to go

When Marianne’s carefully constructed life and marriage fall apart, she is forced to return to Ancaire, the ramshackle seaside house perched high on a cliff by the Irish Sea. There she must rebuild her relationship with her mother, Rita, a flamboyant artist and recovering alcoholic who lives by her own rules.

Marianne left home when she was fifteen following a traumatic and tragic incident. She never planned to return, and now she has to face the fact that some plans don’t work out the way you wanted them to. But she might just discover that, sometimes, you have to come to terms with the story of your past before you can work out the shape of the future…

Set on the wild Irish coast, with an unforgettable cast of characters, this deeply emotional novel is full of Ciara Geraghty’s trademark heart and poignancy.

Review

Having read and enjoyed Ciara Geraghty’s books in the past, I went into this story fully expecting to love it too. I was not prepared for how much Marianne’s tale would capture me, keep me enthralled, and make me think.

On the surface, this is the story about a woman coming to terms with the unexpected demise of her marriage and the troubled relationship with her mother, and that would have made an interesting story.

Scratch that surface just a little, and you’ll find so much more. Marianne put her feelings on hold when she was a teenager. From that moment forward her decisions have been based on practical considerations rather than emotions. It was safe and, for some time, her distant approach to life and connections worked. She seemed to have it all: a practical husband who appeared to be as eager as she was to keep emotions at bay, a good and safe job, a beautiful house, furnished to her exact and unexciting standards. She’s created an environment in which she can pretend she is fine, her life is good, and the past is an ugly but distant memory.

When her house of cards falls apart, Marianne crumbles too. With all her securities torn away she has no choice but to return to the past, the house, and the mother, she’s avoided for more than half her life.

Going home for Marianne is like returning to the setting of a nightmare. Back at Ancaire (Anker—such an appropriate name), Marianne doesn’t try to be nice or take care of herself. She resents others trying to take care of her and puts as much distance between herself and her mother’s life as she can, given they’re sharing a house and her mother’s full-on approach to life.

Between Rita’s joie de vivre, the mixed bag of characters that make up Rita’s group of recovering alcoholics, and a persistent dog, Marianne appears to be coming back from the brink. Almost against her wishes, Marianne finds herself getting involved with causes and interested in people again. Until a shocking discovery throws her back to what appears to be square one.

This story packs a punch, yet it is written so well and so smoothly that the reader could almost miss that rather than an angry and selfish woman, Marianne is a lost soul who has struggled with depression ever since she was fifteen—for so long, in fact, that she doesn’t recognise her actions and reactions as a mental health issue.

For a very long time, Marianne reads as an unsympathetic main character whereas her mother appears to be a bundle of joy. And that’s where the beauty of this story comes fully to light. Because nothing is that simple and, just as Marianne is pulled out of her self-isolation almost against her wishes and in barely perceptible steps, I was surprised to find myself first sympathising with her and then understanding her actions and thoughts. This story and the characters in it are real and raw. They crawled their way under my skin. I wasn’t just interested in how their story might end, I was invested in their journey and its outcome.

I love that the book didn’t end on miracles. Instead, we’re given a scattering of possibilities, glimmers of hope, and potential futures. And while the above may make you think that Make Yourself at Home is a heavy and possibly depressing read, the opposite is through. Marianne’s darkest moments are balanced by the very mixed and mostly unfiltered company she keeps. For every painful experience, there is at least one laugh-out-loud moment. And Marianne’s journey is not only beautiful to behold but inspirational too.

Long story short: Make Yourself at Home is an amazing read. It will make you think and feel, but most of all, it will ultimately lift you up and leave you with a satisfied smile on your face. This book is exactly what I needed to fight my 18-month long reading slump.


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

 


288 pages

Publisher: Canongate

Blurb

'Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices... Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?'


A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Review

I bought this book when it first came out after seeing rave reviews. What’s more, I follow Matt Haig on Twitter and I love his positive messages. Besides, what’s not to love about a book featuring a library filled with books depicting alternate lifelines? Libraries have held a magical gravitational pull for me for as long as I can remember. It started with me as a borrower, and it remains true now that I’m a librarian.

Now that I have finished the book, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. It’s a beautifully written story with a fascinating and original premise. It is also an easy read, despite its deeper message and references to philosophy and quantum physics.

Nora’s journey starts on the day she loses her job and her cat dies. It’s too much. Nothing in her life is right and nothing has been right for too long. She can’t face anymore life so she chooses death. Next thing she knows, she finds herself in a library in which all the books look the same and none appear to have titles. The librarian is someone she remembers from her school days. Mrs. Elm was there for Nora when she needed a shoulder to cry on while in school and it appears Mrs. Elm is here for Nora again now that she needs someone to help her make sense of the mess that was her life.

Mrs. Elm is such an appropriate name. It could, of course be a coincidence, but I doubt it. Not when the spiritual meaning of ‘elm’ is as follows:

 

Elm acknowledges that life's difficulties can create the illusion that we are isolated, alone and misunderstood. This can leave us feeling powerless and therefore trapped. The elm spirit is here to gently encourage us to rethink our situation from a different perspective.

 

Throughout the story, Nora visits alternative lives; those in which she made different choices and discovers who she would have been as a consequence of following those other paths. Along the way she learns lessons. About herself, about the choices she made, and about the people she encountered on her journey.

The object of her journey is to determine once and for all whether she really wants to die and, if not, how she wants to live. I’m not going to say anything else about either the journey or Nora’s final decision except that the story ends on a positive but thankfully not magical or too good to be true note.

“She realised that she hadn’t tried to end her life because she was miserable, but because she had managed to convince herself that there was no way out of her misery.”


I guess it’s fair to say that I enjoyed this read. The story sucked me in and didn’t release me until I read the last page. The book also made me think…a lot, which is a good thing. I love books that make me wonder or question things. However, not all my thoughts and questions were completely positive. Below are some of the thoughts I had while reading the book. I typed them out as they occurred to me and I’ve decided to leave them like that. This may well mean that they make little sense to those who haven’t read the book. It is also possible that I repeat myself once or twice, and I can’t rule out that they don’t contain a spoiler or two. So, if you haven’t read the book yet but are planning to do so, proceed with caution.

 

Thinky-Thoughts

  • The premise is wonderful, but to me at 50 pages into the story, somewhat imperfect. Nora is playing the ultimate ‘what if’ game. But surely there is no such thing as the perfect life for any given person. All decisions have consequences. Every path chosen rules out numerous other paths left unexplored. And there is no such thing as happily ever after in real life. Every life, regardless of the choices that brought us to it, includes the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, joy and heartbreak and I guess mostly happy is the best we can hope for. But I’m still at the start of this book. For all I know, this is the lesson Nora must learn in The Midnight Library.
  • It’s funny, I would have said asking the ‘what if’ question when it comes to life decisions is a bit like setting yourself up for dissatisfaction and doubts. I make a point of avoiding the question unless there is an opportunity to still end up on the path I initially rejected through my choices.
  • The first alternative life Nora visits is the one where she married Dave and they opened a country pub together. It opens her eyes and shows her that maybe she didn’t make a mistake when she pulled out of the wedding but… As valid and as clear as the message that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere is, Nora jumps to that conclusion as a result of what she observes and learns in less than an hour. She and we see all Dan’s faults but because Nora hasn’t lived that life, she doesn’t know anything about what led up to Dan’s current state of being or what role Nora may or may not have played in that journey. And she doesn’t really question it either.
  •  A big problem for me is that the alternate lives Nora gets to contrast against the live she lived and rejected don’t actually compare to her lived reality. In the life she lived she was aware of who she was, who she interacted with, and why she did or didn’t do certain things. She’s thrown into the alternatives without any background knowledge. It isn’t comparing like with like if you have a history and current knowledge in one setting and nothing to hang on to in any of the others. How can Nora judge whether or not any alternative life is better or worse than the one she lived without knowledge of how she got to that particular point in time or about the people she shares it with?
  • As Nora discovers, different decisions my lead to different outcomes, but only on a superficial level because the person at the root of those decisions is the same in every ‘simulation’. Hence she finds she is on the same medication to manage her depression in most lives, no matter how (un)successful.
  • I keep on coming back to the fact that Nora enters her alternative lives without any knowledge about who she is and what, exactly, she does in that existence. How is she supposed to decide which life to make her own if she is a stranger in all of them? In fact, I’m starting to feel that this book could be told in the same fashion while heading to the opposite conclusion; In every single life she enters, she is out of her depth and therefore incapable. It doesn’t matter how successful she is in any particular incarnation, because it isn’t her. So she’s bound to make a mess of the speech she has been booked to make and to confuse the ending of a pop concert. She wasn’t there for all that build up to the moment she’s just entered, so how can she make the moment her own and feel at home in it? Nora is learning to appreciate life again. But wouldn’t it be just as easy to use those experiences to reach the conclusion that no matter where she is, she ends up making a mess of things?
  • I guess with this book it is a simple case of ‘I love the message but I’m not sure the vehicle delivering it is quite up to the task’ for me.
  • I do wonder if maybe I’m overthinking this story and its message. Then again, is it even possible to overthink a book that was so obviously written to make people think about their lives and how they react to and deal with its ups and downs?

 

Which brings me to my conclusion. From reactions on Twitter and Goodreads, where 79% of the ratings are either four or five stars, it is clear that this is a much-loved book. What’s more, it appears to have helped people in that it brought them a message they needed to read. The whole Covid/lockdown situation over the past 14 months may well have played a role in that, but that doesn’t diminish the value of this story (for those people).

Don’t get me wrong. I did appreciate the message. God knows there was a time in my life when this book might have been exactly what I needed to help me find a little perspective on what was happening. In fact, there is probably nothing wrong with the book. I think I may have gone in with my expectations raised too high. Maybe I expected this work of fiction to provide answers it was never supposed to give. And maybe I had non-fiction expectations about a fictional tale. In the end, I still stand by what I said at the start. The Midnight Library is a well-written story, well told. The premise is intriguing and if there are flaws in the execution, they didn’t spoil Nora’s story for me. If you’ve ever wanted to read a book about life, its meaning, and embracing all its opportunities, I urge you to pick up The Midnight Library.

 

 

 

Friday, 30 April 2021

Hold Tight (Biker Daddy Bodyguards #4) by Sue Brown

 


Price: $3.99

Universal link: https://readerlinks.com/l/1799593

Series link: https://readerlinks.com/l/1564675

Blurb

The fourth book in Sue Brown's high stakes Biker Daddy Bodyguards series

Griff spends his evenings unofficially protecting the successful club owner, Jem Peacock, for the Biker Daddy Bodyguards. But Jem is a boy in need of a Daddy and Griff is desperate to take that job. He will wait patiently for Jem to trust him with the secret of his heart.

This young Daddy, all wiry muscle and compact strength, is not Jem’s type. But when Jem’s world implodes, Griff is the one by his side, guarding him, and offering Jem the chance to explore his little side. Jem has longed for a special kind of Daddy, one who loves a femme little. Is he too old to have his dream? Can he trust Griff with that secret?

To his fellow bodyguards, Jem is a client. To their community, Jem is a boy in need of a special Daddy. To Griff, Jem is a little to be treasured. Will Jem give him that chance?

Excerpt

“Your bodyguard is here again,” Max murmured, his amusement sparkling in his green eyes.

Jem Peacock didn’t follow his brother’s gaze. He refused to look over to the other booth in the VIP section of Peacock. He knew what he’d see. The bodyguard in question had been in their club every night for weeks.

“And this time he brought company. Mmmm, pretty.” Max was practically salivating.

Jem held back a growl. “They’re all loved-up, Maxy. Don’t even think about it.”

“Don’t call me Maxy, Jezza. There’s only one boy there. The rest are all big and burly. Yummy.” Max licked his lips.

Jem rolled his eyes. “As I said, all loved up.”

“Except your bodyguard, poor lamb. Sitting there all by himself. He looks so lonely.”

“He’s not my bodyguard.” Jem scowled at Max’s gleeful expression, but he kept his tone cool, knowing his brother would pounce on any sign of weakness. “And he’s certainly not a lamb.” There was nothing soft about Griff Carlton. He was all hard muscle. “He’s not my type.”

Max scoffed at him. “Oh, little brother, you can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to me. Griff is so your bodyguard. How many nights has he been in here since you met him?”

“I don’t know.” Jem glared at his brother, but it didn’t take the wicked grin off Max’s face, and Jem knew what he was going to say.

“Every night. Your boy has been here every single night for the past two months.”

“He’s not my boy.” Jem held back a shiver. Griff may be years younger than Jem, but he was definitely not a boy.

“No,” Max drawled. “He’s certainly not your boy. Your Daddy, perhaps?” 

Author Bio

Cranky middle-aged author with an addiction for coffee, and a passion for romancing two guys. She loves her dog, she loves her kids, and she loves coffee; in which order very much depends on the time of day.

Come over and talk to Sue at: Newsletter | Bookbub | Patreon | Her website

Author group – Facebook | Facebook

Email: sue@suebrownstories.com 



Review

“You’re a boy whisperer.”

This fourth book in the Biker Daddy Bodyguards series is another gem. These books are a delicious mix of high adrenaline adventure and sweet love and it's a mixture I love losing myself in.

To a casual observer, aka the reader, it is clear from the start that Griff and Jem are made for each other. But Jem has a hard time admitting his needs and desires, even to himself, and Griff isn’t the sort of Daddy to force a boy to acknowledge his longings, no matter how badly he wants to meet them.

It’s not as if Griff and Jem are given a lot of time to explore each other and what they could be together. Events unfold fast and furious right from the start. With Jem’s brother and business partner in hospital, fighting for his life after being shot in Jem’s apartment, Griff and the other Biker Daddy Bodyguards move into full protective mode, sweeping a scared and confused Jem up in their protection. With nobody knowing whether Max or Jem was the intended target, Griff is put in charge of keeping Jem safe.

As the mystery surrounding the shooting deepens, Jem is torn between concern about his brother and their club and the attraction he feels for Griff. He yearns to give into the needs of his inner boy but, having been hurt in the past and feeling shame about some of his preferences, he is reluctant to open up to Griff. All Griff can do is pay attention and give Jem what he says he needs. He knows there’s more to explore but is reluctant to push Jem since trust takes time to build and they’re only together a few days by the time things come to a head.

My heart broke when everything appeared to fall apart at the same time for Jem and soared when the seemingly impossible was achieved, bringing happiness to all involved and, most importantly, Jem and Griff.

Unlike the two previous titles I read, this story was more about indulging the boy in Jem than about sexy-time between him and Griff. But, given the short time scale and Jem’s history, this was perfect and didn’t take anything away from the beauty of their growing connection; quite the opposite in fact.

Overall, I have to say that Sue created another winner, both with this book and with the series as a whole. If you like your Daddies caring and dominant and your boys needy yet strong, I urge you to read the Biker Daddy Bodyguards Series now!

Previous Reviews: Hold Firm | Hold Safe

Previous books in the series:

Book 1: Hold Firm: https://readerlinks.com/l/1800454

Book 2: Hold Close: https://readerlinks.com/l/1554518

Book 3: Hold Safe: https://readerlinks.com/l/1564674

Giveaway

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Sunday, 25 April 2021

Just Make Believe by Maggie Robinson


Lady Adelaide Mystery #3

287 pages

Blurb

A week-long house party in the country―why not? Lady Adelaide has nothing else to do, now that her year of mourning for her unfaithful husband is up, and her plans to rekindle her romantic life have backfired. But when her hostess is found dead on the conservatory floor, Addie knows just who to call―Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter of Scotland Yard.

Dev may not want to kiss Addie again, but he's anxious to solve the crime. Who would want to kill Pamela, the beautiful wife of one of Britain's greatest Great War heroes? Certainly not her devoted and wheelchair-bound husband, Sir Hugh Fernald. The other guests seem equally innocent and improbable.

But despite all appearances, something is very wrong at Fernald Hall―there's a body buried in the garden, and the governess has fallen down the stairs to her death. Who's next? Addie and Dev must work together to stop another murder, and they have some help thanks to Rupert, Addie's late and unlamented husband. Rupert needs to make amends for his louche life on earth, and what better way to earn his celestial wings than catch a killer?

Review

It’s been a while since I read a mystery and even longer since I read one with a historical setting. But, it has been nice to return to what used to be my favourite genre. As for the story? That was nice too. I hope that doesn’t sound as if I’m damning the book with faint praise. I enjoyed the tale; it just didn’t have the wow factor. Of course, that may be because I was reading the third story in a series without having read the first two.

 Lady Adelaide is a young aristocrat and has been widowed for a few years when this story starts. Her husband cheated on her all through their marriage and even after his death he won’t tormenting her. His ghost haunts her, mostly to assist her when she runs into murder, but he’s not beyond teasing and infuriating her. What is more, the information he shares with her, while usually right, is never complete enough to provide her with a solution to the mystery she’s facing.

Enter Dev Hunter. As a Detective Inspector he’s well out of Lady Adelaide (Addie’s) social circle and therefore league. The fact that he’s also half Indian, only makes the social gap between them wider. Unfortunately, none of that lessens the attraction simmering between them, although Dev is determined to keep his distance and, in this book at least, he succeeds in not repeating the kiss they (apparently) shared in an earlier instalment.

As for murder(s), there’s a lot going on in this book. It may start with the suspicious death of Addie’s hostess, but it isn’t long before a much older crime is uncovered and soon followed by another suspicious death. I think that’s where the story fell down a little for me. The reader doesn’t really get the opportunity to get involved in the investigation. Almost everything Addie discovers is the direct result of her ghostly former husband providing her with information. What’s more, very little of Dev’s investigation takes place on the page. We learn bits and pieces from his thoughts and his conversations with Addie, but for me there was a significant lack of clues and red herrings in this book. In fact, I had the culprit pinpointed early on in the book, not so much based on what was in the story but more as a result of having read a lot of mysteries in the part and this mystery followed a not unfamiliar pattern. What’s more, the murder(s) in this book aren’t really solved. The ghost provides the answer which, of course, means Addie can’t explain where she gets her information from, and the culprit confesses for reasons that are unclear and unexplained.

Having said all that, I did enjoy this book. In star ratings I would say this is a solid 3.5. It wasn’t a real page-turner for me but returning to the story was no hardship. I liked Addie and Dev and enjoyed reading about British society on the verge of major changes in social structure and female liberation. In fact, I liked it so much that I’m now determined to read the next book in the series too. The ending of this one introduced the next mystery and I’m looking forward to reading it.

 

 


Saturday, 10 April 2021

Finn’s Fantasy (Maine Men #1) by K.C. Wells

 


Pages: 311

Available as E-book, Paperback, and Audio book


Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

 

Blurb

 

A secret desire

 

By day, Finn builds houses on the coastline of Maine. Afterhours, Finn dreams of the hot older guy who walks his chocolate lab on Goose Rocks Beach. The man of his dreams ticks all his boxes. Salt and pepper hair. Strong jawline. Blue eyes.
His dream man is perfect fantasy material. As for actually speaking to him?
As if. Their paths won’t ever cross, and the guy is probably straight.

 

A new chapter

 

Recently divorced Joel is finally living as a gay man, but he’s not sure he’s ready to jump into a relationship. That doesn’t stop him from noticing his new contractor’s muscular build, hewn from hard, physical work, or his storm-colored eyes. Or the way he wears his tool belt slung low on his hips. The icing on the cake? There’s more to Finn than good looks. Maybe he’s the perfect guy to share long walks on the beach and warm nights in front of a fire.

 

But it’s been twenty years since Joel was with a man. While he’s not forgotten how to flirt, he’s nervous about making a move.

 

Especially with Finn.



Review

 

Sighs. Finn’s Fantasy might as well have been written to meet my personal reading preferences.

 

Low Angst?                                        

Age Gap?                                           

Strong Secondary Characters?                      

Adorable Dog?                                   

 

There really isn’t anything in this story that doesn’t work for me. Quite the opposite in fact. I loved it from start to finish. While Finn and Joel both start off assuming that the other man isn’t for him (Finn thinks Joel is straight and Joel is convinced he’s too old for Finn), it doesn’t keep them apart. Because both men, prior to really getting to know each other, are happy to cultivate a friendship in lieu of anything more intimate, their relationship progresses naturally. It’s already clear they’re a good fit before they’ve shared their first kiss.

 

It wouldn’t be a romance without at least a little tension. In this case, the stress isn’t caused by any issue between Finn and Joel but rather by Joel’s past (I’m not sharing details here, I wouldn’t want to spoil this wonderful story). The issue is valid and understandable and, what’s more, it’s not dragged out but dealt with in an open and relatable manner.

 

Finn and Joel together are as adorable as they are hot. You could say they warm both the readers’ hearts and other body parts. 😊

 

This book starts with Finn spending time with his friends and ends with him and Joel meeting the same group again. Other men from this group will find the loves of their lives in subsequent titles. Since we see enough of the friends to get some idea of who they are, I’m already curious about who’s story will be next and what might happen to him. What’s more, these group scenes guarantee that I will see more of Finn and Joel in later Maine Men stories, and to me, that’s fabulous news.

                                                                                                

So:       YAY! To Maine Men #1

            BRING ON, Maine Men #2 and the rest. (Taps foot impatiently.)

 

 

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Art of the Glimpse - 100 Irish Short Stories Selected by Sinéad Gleeson

 


Blurb

An anthology of the very best Irish short stories, selected by Sinead Gleeson, author of Constellations.

There have been many anthologies of the short story as it developed in Ireland, but never a collection like this.

The Art of the Glimpse is a radical revision of the canon of the Irish story, uniting classic works with neglected writers and marginalised voices - women, LGBT writers, Traveller folk-tales, lost 19th-century voices and the first wave of 'new Irish' writers from elsewhere now making a life in Ireland. Sinead Gleeson brings together stories ranging from the sublime to the downright bizarre, from classics to the new generation of writers, and from well known names to previously unpublished talent.

The collection paints a tremendous spectrum of experience: the story of a prank come good by Bram Stoker; Sally Rooney on the love languages of the new generation; Donal Ryan on the pains of ageing; Edna O'Brien on political entanglements; James Joyce on losing a loved one; and the internal monologue of a coma sufferer by Marian Keyes.

 

My thoughts

#100DaysofTheArtofTheGlimpse

This read is going to be something of an experiment. In general, I’m not a huge fan of short stories and I wonder if reading 100 of them, over 100 consecutive days will change my mind. Is reading shorts an acquired skill or just a matter of taste? I should be able to answer that question early April.

Having said that, I’m excited about reading stories by 100 authors, some of whom I’ve read before and loved or not, others I’ve heard about but never investigated, and another cohort I’ve never even heard of.

In more ways than one, reading The Art of the Glimpse will be a voyage of discovery for me.


“An anthology is a gift: a gathering of possibilities, and an opportunity to be converted into an avid completist of a writer’s work that may have otherwise escaped you.” – Sinead Gleeson

December 25th.

The Quest by Leland Bardwell                      

A mother visits the son she gave up (was forced to give up) for adoption when she was sixteen. She doesn’t appear too curious about him, or overly eager to meet him. The reason he invited her only becomes clear near the end of the story; she’s not the witch he imagined her to be.

The saddest part of this story, for me, was the lack of emotion on the page and it makes me wonder; was she really as unaffected by giving up her son as her words seem to imply or is that a myth she’s made herself believe?

December 26th

A Lingering Guest by Jane Barlow

This story made me smile while it broke my heart. It’s devastating to think that Ireland at the time was such a bleak please that an old woman would lie and pretend to be death to ensure a young granddaughter might willingly move to New York where she’d have better chances. At the same time, the love that must have inspired the old woman’s actions is heart-warming. I did stumble over the phonetic spelling at times, but most of it was clear enough for me.

December 27th

Stand Your Skin by Colin Barrett

This story was thoroughly heart-breaking and open-ended. What happened to Bat? Nothing? Did his mother’s worse fear come true?

Whatever happened, whatever it is we’re not told, Bat’s story was devasting; a man lost in life, resigned to the blows and pain, relying on bad substitutes to control his pain. Without ambition and fully expecting to be disappointed, his story left me wishing for a longer version in which someone or something restores him to his full potential.

December 28

Men are Never God’s Creatures by Margaret Barrington.

I’m starting to wonder if short stories and I don’t mix. If that’s true it has nothing to do with the stories, I fear, and everything with me being unable to grasp the nuances.

I enjoyed this tale well enough. The ‘battle for power’ between church and the town amused me, even if I have a hard time imagining what it might be like to live in a world where priests (think they) have such power and wield it. But, I’m not sure how Jerry’s appearance, which very much is made off (both his beauty when seen from behind and the lack of it when face to face) has any relevance. In fact, I’m not sure how the constituent parts of this story fit together. Each on their own were fascinating, but all together, they failed to add up for me.

 After reading other people’s thoughts on this story I fear that I may have missed something. It wouldn’t surprise me. Even after twenty-five years in Ireland there are still quite a few nuances that escape me.

December 29

The Girls and the Dogs by Kevin Barry

“Things had gone wrong in Cork and then they went wronger again.”

And to be perfectly honest, things do not improve once our fugitive reaches Gort and Evan the Head. In a literal sense, this is the darkest story in the anthology so far. It is also the most straightforward short so far which makes the dark easier to deal with than the undercurrents I encountered in the earlier tales.

On a side note, it never ceases to amaze me how sentences that would have my editors screaming at me, make it through the editing process with larger publishers. Although, in this story that may be because of the first-person narrative, because the writing style does perfectly match the characters as I perceived them.

December 30th

Ping by Samuel Beckett

I haven’t a notion what I just read. Is it a metaphor for the vagueries of memory? The only reason I suggest this is because at some point I thought ‘this is a bit how recollections work; they arrive in bits and pieces, adding and subtracting details as we focus on them. Then the word memory popped up in the story and I figured maybe I got it right.

Then again, the above may well be pure nonsense. Most of all this story read like a collection of words I all recognised that failed to make sense of the sentences they were forced into.

December 31st

After the Wake by Brendan Behan

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, it invariably does when I read short stories, but this was the first time in this anthology that I wished for more when the story ended. The ‘what happened next’ question is forceful, and I will never know.

I’m not surprised this story wasn’t published until relatively recently. The homoeroticism is neither understated nor hidden. It is a side to Brendan Behan I was unaware of until now, and I wonder if I should have picked up on it in other work by him.

But, despite my wish for more this is the first story that was perfectly clear for me and didn’t leave me wondering either what I’d just read or how I was supposed to interpret what I’d just read.

January 1st.

Over and Done With by Claire-Louise Bennett

The atmosphere of this one is dark, to me. The dislike of Christmas, the eagerness to get rid of it, and the regret about having it brought into the house at all, in the form of holly, all speak of an event that should have been ignored. As to why that should be the case, I have absolutely no idea. The words used are too big and sad for something as a simple dislike of Christmas.

January 2nd

Holland Park by Maeve Binchy

A Maeve Binchy story. It’s like revisiting an old and dear friend. Binchy was the first Irish author I knowingly read. It was she who introduced me to the word ‘eejit’. At the time I had to say it out loud before I realised what it meant. 😊

Holland Park shines with her trademark insights into people. She can put a fully fleshed character in front of her readers with just a few pen strokes and yet the image is so vivid it is as if she’s writing about somebody you’ve met not too long ago. I haven’t got a lot more to say. Binchy is a writing hero of mine and will remain so until the day I stop reading.

First published in 1978. Yes, I did go and check. Driving after three stiff drinks made me.

January 3rd

Scaphism by Blindboy Boatclub

There are dark stories and then there is Scaphism by Blindboy Boatclub. I’d never heard about Scaphism, and to be honest, I now wish that was still the case.

Having said that, I can picture myself inspecting the bottom of men’s pants when they exit the loo from now on.

January 4th

Ann Lee’s by Elizabeth Bowen

Oh my. I fear I’m just not good enough at reading between the lines. I’m sure there’s a point to this story, besides a shopping trip for hats. I’m equally sure the man who interrupts proceedings indicates something significant. Is the implication that Ann is not just a milliner? And is the man who runs by them in the fog the same man? If so, what terrible thing has happened?

Having said all of that. I read the whole shopping trip with a high level of both amusement and bemusement; the obsession with the right hat is so far outside my range of experiences it could have been written centuries ago, which of course this story wasn’t.

January 5th

Concerning Virgins by Clare Boylan

A most wonderful fable with a ‘careful what you wish for’ and a ‘she who laughs last laughs best’ theme. There’s something delicious about a man who’s spent his life diminishing women getting his comeuppance from the women he hurt most.

January 6th

The Morning After the Big Fire by Maeve Brennan

More a reminiscence than a fictional story? Not that it matters. It wonderfully captures the world view of a young child who can not yet comprehend the horror of a large fire but relishes the excitement such an event brings to an otherwise mostly unremarkable daily routine.

January 7th

Leitrim Flip by June Caldwell

Well now, I honestly don’t know what to say about this story except that it is a BDSM tale unlike any I’ve read before (and I have read a few in my time). Definitely not a romantic depiction of dominance and submission. 😊

January 8th

Here We Are by Lucy Caldwell

"There are times in your life, or maybe just the one time, when you find yourself in the right place, the only place you could possibly be, and with the only person."

A story about first (lesbian) love, the huge emotions accompanying it, and how your first never really leaves.

January 9th

The Wee Gray Woman by Ethna Carbery

A deeply sad tale about a man who, for reasons best known to himself, ends up causing the death of the girl he loves in a bout of unreasonableness.

Very much of its time in that it states things like:

"The little one-roomed cabin was tidy as a woman might have kept it."

Which just goes to show that double standards are nothing new. While women keep the place tidy, they also get send out to mind the calves if the man of the house decides as much.

January 10th

Children’s Children by Jan Carson

I may be wrong (but I don’t think I am), but this reads coming together of a woman from ‘the south’ and a man from ‘the north’ reads as a metaphor for the island of Ireland and the difficulties people from both sides of the border have seeing the similarities because all they’ve ever focussed on are the differences. In fact, it is a wonderful example of how short-sighted and silly the whole us vs. them mindset is.

January 11th

One Word by Juanita Casey

I have absolutely no idea what this story was about unless it is an illustration of how numbing and futile life can be. It is possible that the abuse of the donkeys, were named after the two men Miss Judith Dannaher didn’t marry, was supposed to be funny as well as an indication of her desperation, but really, I just saw a woman hurting a mostly harmless animal.

January 12th

Beatrice by Evelyn Conlon

“Why am I doing this? To hear myself described in a new way, that’s it.”

The exciting start, uncomfortable middle, and inevitable demise of an affair. A variation on the ‘grass is always greener’ theme, proving that most of the time, the greenness is only visible at first glance before we take a good look.

January 13th

A Family Occasion by Emma Cooke

Ah, this was lovely. Description of a family gathering when the two daughters who live and work in London come home for their annual visit. Mention is made of differences between the siblings and religious tension but in the end, family is family and they all look out for each other. As I said, lovely. And given the day that’s in it (Mother and Baby Homes Report), a story about a family that doesn’t allow differences to stand in the way of love and connection is just what I needed.

January 14th

The Awakening by Daniel Corkery

A coming-of-age story? A young(ish) man is handed control over the family’s fishing boat when the old captain, who’s been in charge ever since the younger’s father died, decides to retire. His delight is tempered by the eventual realisation that despite the captain’s jovial mood and words, the older man is sad to leave his old life behind.

Beautiful descriptions of the sea and fishing as the youngish lad fully recognises those for the first time.

January 15th

Sleeping With a Stranger by Mary Costello

Nowhere near as exciting as the title suggests at first, this story portrays a man reflecting on his life and marriage as his mother dies. A sad reflection on a life perceived as unfulfilled.

“They had children because they could not be childless; childlessness would have amplified the loneliness of marriage.”

January 16th

The Vocation by Kathleen Coyle

A very sad tale about a husband and wife after their only son leaves to become a priest without talking to his dad first. Simon, the husband, firmly places the blame on his wife but I can’t help thinking that if you’re going to make the raising of children the exclusive duty of women, you don’t have the right to complain.

January 17th

A Swim by Elizabeth Cullinan

“All along they’d been outside the truth, just as they’d been outside love, and now the truth, like love, would not let them in.”

This story made me sad. Sad because of everything the (Irish) man and (American) woman don’t have and aren’t. Sad because the woman appears to be on a mission to save the man from something (himself?). Sad because by the end of the day the distance between them is bigger than it was when they arrived at the beach in Portmarnock. Did I imagine the superiority the woman seems to feel? I did love the man observing that while the Irish have a reputation for being prudish, they are a lot more carefree than Americans when it comes to changing on the beach. That’s still true. No matter how Catholic the Irish are supposed to be, they can be surprisingly liberal when push comes to shove.

January 18th

Yew Tree Tharsp Sharko by Oein DeBhairduin

A story about grief as well as a myth/folk tale about the origin of yew trees with an important conclusion:

This tale reminds me that grief can bind us into a rigid loss if we stand in it for too long. If we become unmoving, unexploring of the world and unwanting of the company and kindness of others, we too risk becoming the lonely yew in the graveyard, so lost in our own grief, that we lose ourselves.

January 19th

The Beautiful Thing by Kit de Waal

“I met my father in 1969 when I was ten, I don’t mean we were estranged; he lived with us, I saw him everyday. But one evening, at the kitchen table, while he polished his heavy winter boots, he started talking about coming to England and the day he got off the boat and I saw then he had a life that stretched back before I was born. So that’s how I met him […].

Reading this story left me with the impression that Kit de Waal’s father is (was?) a very special human being. His message to his ten-year-old daughter is one we would all be well advised to heed:

 “And don’t be angry. If you look, you will always find a beautiful thing.”

January 20th

Speaking in Tongues by Emma Donoghue

Clever title, referring to kissing in this story about two women. There’s a bit of an age gap and a lot of attraction. Since the story is told from both perspectives, it is also the clearest proof ever that assuming is never wise and communication is important if you want to reach correct conclusions.

January 21st

The Husband by Mary Dorcey

A wife, leaving her husband for another woman and the man’s attempts to cope and deal with it. Is he lying to himself? Is the situation so hurtful that he refuses to face reality and seeks refuge in denial, or is he right? We will never know since we don’t get his wife’s perspective and the story ends with her leaving and him believing that she will be back.

January 22nd

The Pram by Roddy Doyle

Man, this is dark. Superstition combined with resentment makes for a stark story. And, because Roddy Doyle wrote the words, this is unsettling easy to read for something so sinister.

January 23rd

Teatro La Fenice by Christine Dwyer Hickey

(This story won the Observer Short Story Competition.)

This tale left me sad. Two ‘old’ ladies in what appears to be a care home with the narrator doing what she can to stop people from noticing her, afraid of ending up on the locked ward where those who’s minds have given up the ghost stay. Are they friends or together because there is nobody else? What remains when all that’s left is memories and those are fading?

January 24th

Virgin Soil by George Egerton

A very stark reminder of what the world was like for women until not too long ago, still is in (too) many places. Where norms and shame forced a disastrous innocence on women until it was, often horrifically, shattered on their wedding night. Is it strength, desperation, or both that gave her the courage to walk away?

January 25th

Revenge by Anne Enright

How appropriate to reading in times of Covid to find a story in which the main character works for a firm manufacturing rubber gloves. Which is a surprising start for a story about a couple deciding to try out swinging, mostly because the husband has committed adultery and the wife thinks this would constitute her revenge. Of course, nothing works as she plans, and the story comes full circle with a wet patch in the bed taking her back to the rubber protective layer she used to have on her bed as a child. The whole tale left me feeling sad about relationships.

January 26th

Dishonoring the dead by Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi

A funeral

Beloved parents gone

And a family torn apart.

Love’s illusion dead

As illusion stakes its claim.

 The living have no use for what the dead have to offer

And the dead have no use for what the living claim to offer.

January 27th

77 Pop Facts You Didn’t Know About Gil Courtney by Wendy Erskine

I’m a bit lost about this one. It is exactly what it says in the title, a list of 77 facts. It does paint a picture of Gil Courtney, but since I had never heard of him and am not familiar with this music, it was mostly meaningless, as in, I’m not sure why anyone would want to compile this list.

January 28th

Sojourn by Elaine Feeney

Once again not entirely sure what’s going on. Is this a couple trying to salvage something or about to split up? If the problem is his cheating, then who is Richard? But, no amount of confusion could dim the glorious beauty of the language used, especially when describing water.

January 29th

Hump by Nicole Flattery

Not a fucking clue.

January 30th

I Don’t by Lauren Foley

There’s a lot going on here. At first glance, this is a confusing trip into the head of a woman who is either desperately ill or dealing with desperate mental health issues. But in the middle of the mental chaos, there are references to doctors ignoring women, not listening to women, talking over and about rather than with women, and misdiagnosing women as a result. The frustrating thing is that I’m almost sure there’s more in this story, that I probably missed more than I found. The unsettling part is that this read like a horror story to me. The tumult in the narrator’s head seriously scared me.

January 31st

The Lovecats by Patrick Freyne

On the surface a rather mad tale about two cats getting married, in a full-blown ceremony, after the Tomcat gets the other feline pregnant and as such it is funny. But, underneath it is also a tale about simple pleasures, about indulging others, just to make them happy, and about unexpected opportunities to reconnect. I loved this one.


I wonder if short stories are just not for me. I fear I may be too invested in full stories, with a clear start, middle, and finish to appreciate these fragments, moments in time. I wonder what came before, what it was that created the object of the story and when it ends, I want to know more. The persistent thought that I’m just not getting it, that I’m missing something, doesn’t help.

 

February 1st

The Lady, Vanishing by Mia Gallagher

Short and oh so horrid and not just because of murder.

February 2nd

Badger by Sarah Maria Griffin

I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’m expecting too much from short stories. I liked this one. I like that the identity of the elder sibling took me by surprise. I like the obvious closeness between the two siblings. I am confused as to what the discovery under the porch means or why knowing what it is makes the sound acceptable. Is that the difference between a novel and a short story? That the first spells the answers out whereas the second leaves the reader wondering?

February 3rd

The Homesick Industry by Hugo Hamilton

If this story is about anything besides the soul-destroying boredom of a job not loved, I have missed it.

February 4th

Egress by David Hayden

Egress – The action of going out of or leaving a place.

The title wasn’t the only thing that went over my head although that was the one issue easy to resolve. I have no idea what happened here? Is this a suicide and a description of a life flashing before the ‘victim’s’ eyes? Your guess is as good as mine (probably better, if I’m honest).

February 5th

Reprieve by Dermot Healy

Once again, I’m not sure what exactly this story is about. A woman makes a momentous decision (hysterectomy?). Had the story been set in the Netherlands, I might have guessed euthanasia. Since this is Ireland, that won’t be it. But, if the story is the time leading up to an operation, what exactly is the reprieve?

February 6th

Nine Years is a Long Time by Norah Hoult

Full story with a lot going on. On the surface it’s all about a woman (middle-aged?) coming to terms with the fact that the man she’s been seeing about once a month for nine years probably won’t be coming back. It leaves her with a financial dilemma but, probably much to her surprise, she’s also emotionally affected. There’s more though. It’s about getting older. About bodies changing. About perceptions and appearances. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

February 7th

Standard Deviation by Caoilinn Hughes

Once again, I’m not entirely sure what this is about. I suspect however it’s all about the time we live in now and how it makes people, especially the younger generation who (barely) know life without social media and validation from strangers, look at themselves, their actions, and appearance through other people’s eyes; more worried about what other people’s reaction may be then how they themselves feel about a situation. It’s a sad state of affairs really, isn’t it? People losing themselves in order to live up to the expectations of others.

February 8th

Trio by Jennifer Johnston

Tale of an execution the victim almost misses because he’s late. No explanation as to the why. The most chilling part was not the killing itself but the casual conversation about childbirth one of the two assassins kept up. That, and the fact that it’s written in such distant language that by the end, the shooting almost felt like a non-event. Fascinating what words can do.

February 9th

A Love by Neil Jordan

“As I remember you I define you, I choose bits of you like a child with a colouring-book, I fill you out.”

A story about a goodbye, about the us never being able to revisit the past, no matter how hard we try. It is funny though how a story about memories made me reminiscence too. Because despite the Irish setting I got a strong sense of Rob de Nijs singing Het Werd Zomer from this story.

February 10th

Eveline by James Joyce

Just goes to show that I should never take anything as a given. There were so many stories in this collection so far that I couldn’t really follow, that I was convinced a story by James Joyce would surely join those ranks. I was wrong. I understood this story all too well and it made my heart bleed for Eveline and the opportunity she doesn’t take.

February 11th

Antarctica by Claire Keegan

It is no coincidence that this story came after Eveline. From one woman who doesn’t make a decision and foregoes the opportunity of changing her life for the better to another woman whose life is good making a decision that will take her to her personal vision of hell. Very well written though. The language plain and simple and yet, that undercurrent of dread was there, from start to finish.


It is shocking that I made it until here before I realised that these stories are organised in alphabetical order by author surname. #MustPayMoreAttention. So, I guess I was right when I said the two previous stories following each other was no coincidence. I was, however, very wrong about the reason why that was the case.


February 12th

Drown Town by Colm Keegan

“Coolness comes off us like a ready-brek glow.”

AKA, how not to have a fun night out. I loved the direct, in your face language in this story. I’m less charmed by the open ending though.

February 13th

The Intruders by Rita Kelly

There’s a lot of Irish in this story, which goes completely over my head, of course. Having said that, I do wonder if learning to understand Irish properly (also) stands for learning to communicate. We approach and comprehend language differently as we get older, and this very much is a coming off age story set in an Irish, all female boarding school. In such a setting, young and handsome teachers have a lot to answer for.

February 14th

Hunger by Louise Kennedy

The day Bobby Sands died as seen through the eyes of a teenage Northern girl now living in the republic. If anything, it proves that no matter what Southern people may say, the issues of the North don’t live in the Republic's consciousness to the same extent. Although the last paragraph indicates that at least some Northern Irish people might to keep a distance from the politics too.

February 15th

Under by Marian Keyes

Such a quiet yet distressing tale. A woman is in a coma and listens to her family imploring her to come back. She’s no intention of returning to her life though, and we only learn why slowly…devastatingly. Somehow Marian’s writing style, simple yet visual, quiet yet poignant, make Laura’s plight so much harsher. The desire to die touched a nerve while the ending filled me with both dread and hope. I can’t begin to tell you how badly I want to know what happened next.

February 16th

Through the Fields in Gloves by Benedict Kiely

I’m going to assume this story is confused because the main character, with an obsession about women who dress in his eyes flamboyantly, himself is confused. Painting painted ladies…I guess it makes a weird kind of sense.

 

I can’t help wondering if Sinead Gleeson went out of her way to put stories on the same theme together while also introducing the authors in alphabetical order. That almost must be the case. Coincidence can only explain so much.

 

February 17th

Sarah by Mary Lavin

This story was an easy and rather refreshing read until the very end. I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t for a story about freedom turning into a story about repression. I did not (want to?) see this ending coming and when it did, I wasn’t happy.

February 18th

The Village Bully by Sheridan Le Fanu

A wonderful supernatural tale and, in contrast to the previous story, in this one justice is done even if a bit postponed and at a very high cost. It’s good to see that bullies were frowned upon long before modern times too.

February 19th

Me and the Devil Eimear McBride

A devastating story. There’s so much bad and sad in these few pages. The hypocritical priest, the forbidden love, and consequences that will come, later if sooner isn’t possible.

Heart-breaking, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to cheering a little about how it ended.

February 20th

Cancer by Eugene McCabe

Now here’s a title that fits several of the subjects touched upon in the story. Of course, it describes the fate of one of the two bachelor brothers. But weren’t the troubles a cancer on the land, and wouldn’t the Catholics have seen the English army as an occupying cancer?

It feels like another lifetime and yet, it’s not so very long ago.

February 21st

Thomas Crumlesh, 1960 – 1992: A Retrospective by Mike McCormack

Oh my, while the story is perfectly clear, I do wonder what to make of it. Is it a statement about the often-obscure nature of modern art? About the lengths people may go to in order to produce something original? Given my limited appreciation for and understanding of modern art forms, I like that explanation and am sticking to it. Although it remains a bizarre idea that a surgeon would be happy to perform amputations until the point of death, just for the sake of art.

February 22nd

High Ground by John McGahern

How I would have loved to know the ending of this story. Did young Moran take the job and replace the old headmaster? I like to think he didn’t, but that’s just my optimism, maybe. A nice insight into (local) Irish politics though. I’d love to say things have changed since then, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

Feb 23rd

Transmission by Blánaid McKinney

A very good short. What starts out as a madman acting out turns into a heartbreaking tale of loss and an attempt to take back control of a life that appears to have lost all meaning. Destruction of the very thing that has destroyed a life makes perfect sense.

Feb 24th

Those that I fight I Do Not Hate by Danielle McLaughlin

Kevin, persona non grata, is present at a first communion party where he’s obviously not wanted. Why he’s not wanted is never made clear although several options are hinted at. Is it because he’s cheated with his hostess? Because he has a problem with alcohol? Because he caused/was involved in a car accident? Whatever it is, my opinion of him didn’t improve when he gave alcohol to the underage daughter of his hosts and touched her leg.

 

Maybe I should look up the definition of a short story one of these days. It is hard not to think that one of the requirements has to be ambivalence as to content and/or ending.

 

Feb 25th

Walking the Dog by Bernard McLaverty

Scary tale as a man, out walking his dog, is picked up by a gunman with a car. Scary mostly because I have no doubt shit like this happened. Scary.

Feb 26th

Exile’s Return by Bryan MacMahon

This story did not develop in the way I feared it might and that was a wonderful surprise. Less cheerful is the subject of this story since it gives an insight into the all but impossible venture of keeping a marriage together and working while one of the partners is gone for years on end. The power of compromise is everything.

Feb 27th

Sometimes on Tuesdays by Janet McNeill

I may be wrong but to me this read like a story about a man being selfish, only noticing the problems the two women in his life have in so far as they reflect on him or affect his life and comforts. Then again, aren’t we all guilty of that to some extent at least?

Feb 28th

Hollow by Paul McVeigh

A fairy tale that seems to promise a happy ending until it goes absolutely horrid.

March 1st

A Shiver of Hearts by Una Mannion

Simple and devastating. A girl returns to Ireland (Sligo) from America every summer, alone. Her mother was banished and refuses to return, no matter how much she misses her home. The friend she makes falls pregnant. Nothing much has changed; mothers still abandon their daughters when faced with premarital sex and its consequences.

March 2nd

Access by Aidan Mathews

I’m not sure if this is a sad story or not. A bit of both, maybe. A girl in her early teens meets with her dad for their weekly time together. She feels she’s no longer a child and too mature for certain words and actions only to discover, as we all do, that while we do get older, we never stop being our father’s (and mother’s) child.

March 3rd

Women are the Scourge of the Earth

Harrowing story told from the point of few of a man defending himself, presenting excuses for something he has done to his wife. Classic abuser’s language. The woman was unstable and ungrateful. Everything that happened to her was her own fault and the whole world, but especially the women in his life, is against him. Sickening to read…and disturbing because it’s unclear what he’s done to her except to be rid of her now.

March 4th

Home Sickness by George Moore

I feel this story is mainly about the inability to go back combined with ‘the grass is always greener’. Because while we can return to the place where we grew up, it will never fit the memories we hold of it; memories which are far better than reality could ever be. Self-censure is a beautiful but tricky thing.

March 5th

Divided Attention by Mary Morrisy

This is an imaginative story about a woman who uses the crank caller who’s bothering her at night to get over being abandoned by her married lover. This is a rather inspired idea. Put two horrid things together in order to create a new start. If you could organise it, I could see this working as a form of therapy.

March 6th

The Deserter’s Song by Peter Murphy

A story out of time and place. It reads as something about the Civil War, but burner phones and other mentions of more modern items make that setting unlikely. Mostly the tale made me angry. I have no time for blind obedience, and that is exactly what this story is about, with horrific consequences.

March 7th

The Hungry Death by Rosa Mulholland

Innisbofin where pride (and what some might call romantic notions) come before the fall in the harshest of manners. Mind you, it was hard to feel much, if any, sympathy for Bridget, who threw it all away because she wanted to feel special.

 

On a side note, I’m noticing that I’m, in general, enjoying the older stories more than the more recent works and I wonder if that is because the contemporary tales are more ambiguous as if these days a story must be mysterious and open to various interpretations in order to be valued.

March 8th

Away from it All by Val Murkerns

The end of a relationship, and rightly so. I’m glad to read a story in which the woman doesn’t make excuses for her man’s inadequacies but instead allows herself to see them and come to the (right conclusion). Timothy was a dick and almost certainly using her. Good riddance!

Clever though how the author depicts Timothy’s selfishness with very few words.

March 9th

Literary Lunch by Eilis NiDhuibhne

I really liked this one, despite its darker theme. The frustrations of the unpublished, unsuccessful writer are brilliantly explored and with devastating results. Mind you, I’m inclined to agree that the Irish writers' world does often resemble a closed club with obscure initiation rules. You only need to look at the reviews Irish authors leave for other Irish authors to see the truth.

 

I just came across an Edna O’Brien quote about the male-dominated Irish writing scene. Given the subject of ‘Literary Lunch’ and an Edna O’Brien story coming up next, this seems the perfect place to share it: 'I never dared enter those precincts, nor was I invited. Nor was that where I wanted to be. I wrote alone.'

 

March 10th

A Journey be Edna O’Brien

Reflections on an affair and how it may or may not continue. Two very different people. The ‘only’ thing connecting them appears to be attraction. But he has a life, woman, and child elsewhere and, by the time they part, she has no idea what, if anything will happen next. This read like an observation, almost emotionless, and all the more powerful for it.

March 11th

Two in One by Flann O’Brien

Very clever and equally horrific and proof of a fabulous, be it morbid imagination. Two in One, indeed. A taxidermist’s nightmare might be a good alternative title. This is one short story that will stay with me for some time.

March 12th

The Road to Brightcity by Mártín Ó Cadhain

Despite the somewhat upbeat ending, when the arrival of the sun lifts Brid’s spirits, this was a rather dismal story about the long road between home and market, the repetitiveness of daily life, and the shadowy places our minds take us, especially while the world is dark. Still, it was also a (timely) reminder to keep life in perspective. What we perceive as hardships now is nothing compared to the lives people used to live in Ireland and still live elsewhere in the world.

March 13th

The Man of the World by Frank O’Connor

Interesting. The man of the world in question is a boy, one year older and from a better-off family than the narrator. The secrets he shares are of a typical boyish nature and delivered with an air of knowing supremacy. When the boy decides it doesn’t sit right with him he puts that down to God, while I suspect it’s more a matter of him growing up and learning that just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should be done. Which, of course, makes him a faster learner than his older friend.

March 14th

Ailsa by Joseph O’Connor

Disturbing story about a disturbing mind. Male, of course. The timing is rather freaky though what with the horrific pictures of men subjecting women to unnecessary violence we saw from Clapton Common yesterday. Ugh. The most frightening thing about this story was probably the monotone in which it was told; the total lack of emotion from the narrator.

March 15th

Squidinky by Nuala O’Connor

A beautiful story about love, grief, and overcoming pain and loneliness. Opening your life and your heart again, almost against your wishes at a most surprising time as the result of an unexpected encounter. How long is too long to grieve somebody you’ve loved?

March 16th

The Glass Panel by Eimar O’Duffy

A most wonderful mystery clearly inspired by and in the style of a Sherlock Holmes story except that in this case, the assistant out-clevers the famous sleuth. Thoroughly enjoyed this one.

 

If the previous story doesn’t prove that I prefer my reading with an obvious start, middle, and ending, I don’t know what will. My ambivalence regarding many of the stories in this collection is no longer bewildering.

 

March 17th

A Dead Cert by Seán Ó Faoláin

I forgot that ‘a death cert’ actually means two different things in Irish-English. This story is rather sad. Unrequited love always seems to lead to dark thoughts battling the light. Still, a woman (or a man for that matter), no matter how attractive shouldn’t tease like this.

March 18th

The Doctor’s Visit by Liam O’Flaherty

A story with a twist I didn’t see coming at all and appreciated all the more for it.

March 19th

Under the awning by Melatu Uche Okorie

Powerful and a lot going on for such a short story. Of course, it was about racism, both blatant and overt. But it is also about we shouldn’t allow others to judge our story. Our personal experiences can never be appreciated by others the way we do. In this case I can only imagine how painful it must be to be told that the events you describe are too bleak and therefore overstated. Whereas I’m fairly sure the narrator had actually sugar-coated her daily life.

March 20th

The Apprentice by David Park

Well-written and captivating story about a young man (boy?) doing something for the first time. What that is, is never revealed but it’s obviously something secret, something he’s nervous about, something he can’t talk about. Reading between the lines I’m going to say it is something gang or terrorists related, which means that although he does manage to be in the right place at the right time, it’s a bittersweet ending. It’s hard not to think it might be better for him if he’d missed the appointment.

March 21st

Manners by Elske Rahill

I’m not sure what the point of this story is. Is it a reflection on privilege? Is it trying to be nasty or nice about travellers? Why do the sexual fantasies matter? This story left me with nothing except a vague feeling of unease.

March 22nd

A Strange Christmas Game by Charlotte Riddell

Nice ghost story, but not as much of a mystery as it tries to be?

March 23rd

Where Do I Go When You Die? By Keith Ridgway

Going by the last few lines I’m going to guess this is some sort of declaration of love. But until that moment it read like the ramblings of someone who had smoked a joint or two too many.

March 24th

Robbie Brady’s Astonishing Late Goal Takes its Place in Our Personal Histories by Sally Rooney.

Right from the start this story felt familiar, although I’ve never read it before. Then I encountered the term ‘normal persons’ and it all made a weird kind of sense. The term also made me wonder if this story was written before the book titled Normal People because Conor and Helen and their conversation reminded me of Connell and Marianne. A quick Google search later I know that the story preceded the book by about a year.

As for this story seen on its own: It’s a rather charming lead up to the first time Conor and Helen profess their love for each other while he’s in France watching the Irish football team and she’s in Cambridge.

March 25th

Physiotherapy by Donal Ryan

A life reduced to the main events: Married, a love affair, and a son killed, and reflected upon near the end of that lifetime, when husband and wife both do an exercise to counter the effects of the strokes they had. It could be me and my current mood, but I got a distinct ‘what’s it all for’ sense from this story.

March 26th

Red Eye by Ian Sansom

Memories of a wedding which appears to also have been the Englishman’s introduction to Belfast. Quite a few prejudices confirmed too, especially about religious concerns. “Welcome to the family. Welcome to Northern Ireland. Welcome to Belfast.” Have to be honest though and admit that I’m not entirely sure what the point of this story is except to show that, like most others, the people in Northern Ireland are proud of their country.

March 27th

A Rhinoceros, Some Ladies and a Horse by James Stephens

I’m not sure if it’s technically right, but to me this read like a nonsense tale. It was fun and made me smile but made very little sense at all.

March 28th

A Young Widow by Bram Stoker

Not at all what I expected from Bram Stoker (mind you, I’m only familiar with Dracula). A fun romance with a hint of mystery to it and utterly charming.

Come to think of it. This is such a ‘common’ romance trope. The child bringing their guardian in contact with someone who will turn out to be the love interest and completion of their family. Just goes to show that there really isn’t anything new under the sun.

March 29th

Black Spot by Deirdre Sullivan

Not entirely sure what this was about. Loneliness? Feeling unfulfilled?

I did recognise quite a few things though. The endless commute from home to place of work, meaning you leave and return in the dark because housing near the job is unaffordable for ‘normal’ people. Feeling resentful about a job you do actually like as a result of lack of respect from your colleagues and manager. And the feeling of dread that creeps up on a driver when they drive past a memorial at a black spot. I wonder though, was the beeping seat-belt alarm really a ghost driving along or was it just a broken sensor, possibly in the passenger seat?

March 30th

The Story by Cathy Sweeney

The story, in this case is rather sad. Or rather, both stories - the one found and the one told by him who does the finding - are sad. Live without love or a love not recognised until long after opportunities have vanished, is there anything sadder?

March 31st

One Minus One by Colm Tóbín

A sad tale about regret on the anniversary of a mother’s death. Thoughts send at a friend - former partner? Everything that was lost and unretrievable, all the things he never said and wished he had. Regret: it’s probably the saddest of our emotions.

April 1st

A Happy Family by William Trevor

Devastating story about a wife and mother’s descend into madness? I wonder if it could also be a form of postnatal depression. But, the story is sad in more respects for example when the husband just supposes his marriage and family were happy. Maybe because he wonders if his marriage caused his wife’s decline?

April 2nd

The Apple by Una Troy

‘She had never used her mind for thinking, only for recording the thoughts of others.’

Ugh. On the face of it, the tale of a nun returning to the place that used to be home thirty years ago. On a deeper level a vivid description of the ridiculous limitations the church has, for centuries, inflicted on those who believe, just because it could.

April 3rd

The Sea’s Dead by Katharine Tynan

‘There was scarce a windowsill in Achill by which the banshee had not cried.’

Such a sad tale. Everything about and in this story is grey, dark, and filled with doom. Achill, the sea, a boat claimed and men lost, a large wave (tsunami?). Even the mystery about Moya and the mermaid myth she becomes doesn’t lift this tale in which even the glorious and vivid descriptions are gloomy.

*****

 Now that I’ve finished the 100 stories, I have to admit that they didn’t turn me into a lover of shorter fiction. While I enjoy some mystery in my reading and love stories which leave me wondering after I’ve finished them, I’ve discovered that I really don’t enjoy it when I’m left feeling out of my depth, as if I’m not smart enough to understand the nuances of what I’ve just read. While I’m willing to admit that it is possible that my mind isn’t configured for these tales, I remain disinclined to reach for a book filled with stories that may well leave me unsatisfied. I’m not saying I’ll never read a story collection again, but I do think they will be few and far between.