As a genre, then Short Story is the Cinderella of Literature. The reason for this remains elusive but there is no doubt that the hapless Tale or Story is more often than not left aside and its more aristocratic Cousins, the Novel, Poem or Play preferred instead. In fact, at one stage, it was the deliberate policy of French publishers not to accept manuscripts of Short Stories as “personne ne les lit plus”.
Ever so often, however, the Short Story makes itself felt as a serious and entertaining mode of literary expression and this has certainly happened in the last month if in a somewhat mooted fashion. During that period, three collections appeared which underlined the genre’s vitality, its versatility and, in the case of the third one, its importance as a conduit that allows young writers to find their voice.
Given the unfortunate timing of its appearance, Desmond Hogan’s “Old Swords and other stories” has received a somewhat “sotte voce” welcome. Yet, in time, it will have a strong case to be considered as one of the great classics of Irish Gay Literature. The stories are populated with the dreamers and the marginalised of this world and as the varied narrators explore their experiences and aspirations, there emerges a nobly innate sense of human dignity that is sensitive and inspiring.
In his own inimitable way, Hogan punctuates his prose with an incessant flow of postcards depicting images of great classical paintings along with acute observations of the natural world that surrounds him, thus accentuating the loneliness and pain his characters endure, who turn find consolation in the strength of their own humanity. Given the circumstances in which it was written, “Old Swords” is a truly remarkable achievement.
Equally curious, but for much different reasons, is the first collection of stories by Michael J Farrell and published by that great Champion of the Short Story Declan Meade entitled “Life In The Universe”. The blurb tells us that by the time this collection sees the light of day, the author will be seventy-four. Although, this is his first collection, he is no stranger to the genre having edited the annual literary reviews “Acquarius” and “Everyman”. He now lives in East Galway.
Not surprisingly, the constant theme of this collection is old age in many of its vicissitudes. There is a wonderfully human warmth not to say ironic sense of humour running through the stories that charms and delights. With all of that, they contain a deep sense of purpose that mirrors the human dignity of the Hogan collection. This dignity finds its most powerful expression when personal decrepitude and oncoming death are present in the narrative and more especially with the twist that Farrell often injects into a story’s conclusion.
“Town of Fiction The Atlantis Collective” is a collection of stories mostly written by graduates from NUIG’s MA in Creative Writing class of 20008. It is a brave collection as the contributors have used their own scarce resources to produce the collection and therefore put their money where their pen is. It is a brave collection because some of the contributors have placed themselves before the public before they were ready to do so and left themselves open to unwarranted criticism.
Having said that, it is an important collection because it allows the younger generation of writer’s a public platform on which to express their vision of a world they have inherited from older and so called wiser mentors. It also contains some wee gems of stories such as Conor Montague’s “The Count”, Alan Caden’s “In His Shoes” and Máire T. Robinson’s “An Unkindness of Ravens”.
These are voices that deserve our full attention and certainly augur well for the future of the Short Story.
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