Short stories round-up: These tales by Irish writers are dead on target

From All Over Ireland to Stuart Evers's Your Father Sends His Love

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The bar is set high for the fifth instalment in Faber & Faber's new Irish short stories series, not only by the standard of previous volumes, but by the decision to lift the title from a line in James Joyce's The Dead ("Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland..."). All Over Ireland (Faber, £9.99) features contributions from new and established writers, from Andrew Fox, whose first collection appeared earlier this year, to Colm Tóibín's "The Journey to Galway", a powerful meditation on grief and Irish history. Other standouts include "Killing Time", Lucy Caldwell's story of a child who may or may not have taken an overdose of painkillers, Mary Morrissy's "Emergency" and Selina Guinness' "The Weather Project". The collection's editor Deidre Madden notes that "emigration features in several of the stories" as authors take us to America, Ghana and London, reaching into the past and confronting topical subjects in a variety of ways which bode well for Ireland's literary future.

Locations are rarely specified in Angela Readman's debut collection. Instead, atmosphere and subtle use of vernacular set the scene. The 12 stories in Don't Try This At Home (& Other Stories, £10) switch between the everyday and fantastical so confidently that it sounds plausible for a woman to chop her boyfriend into pieces, which live on as multiplied versions of him, a doll to start speaking or a woman to morph into Elvis. Whether being understated ("Wind kicks the leaves in the gutters") or outlandish ("Mam brought in tea and dropped the biscuit tin like a sinking Titanic"), Readman writes with precision. Her stories emit suppressed yearning and she makes poignant comments about loneliness, identity, survival. Angela Carter is an obvious influence but fans of Donald Barthelme and Charles Baudelaire will cherish the emergence of a moral absurdist for our times.

There are surreal elements to Pippa Goldschmidt's collection too. I wasn't looking forward to reading "stories with a scientific focus" (learning that Goldschmidt has a PhD in astronomy didn't help, nor did the title which initially sounded clunky) but The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space (Freight Books, £8.99) wisely shuns polymath pyrotechnics for a witty blend of history, compassion and poetic passages about neutrinos, space and beyond.

Suffragettes disrupt the stuffy world of astronomy in "The First Star" while "The Snow White Paradox" captures the tragedy of Alan Turing's life in a few pages. Both stories leave us reflecting on historic injustices and wondering what we might be getting wrong today. Albert Einstein, Bertolt Brecht and Robert Oppenheimer all appear, but Goldschmit's sympathy also extends to the obscure and unheard. "Furthest South", an Arctic-set tale of heartbreak and male rivalry, is moving.

A famous figure clashes with his son in the title story of Your Father Sends His Love (Picador, £12.99), the memorable second collection by Stuart Evers. Where his celebrated debut used the subject of smoking to unite stories, Evers' new book concerns parenthood, love and ageing. Largely set in present-day England or the recent past, the stories display his nimble way with timeframes and his ability to imbue single moments with significance can leave you heartbroken.

"A whole life in a straight line from birth to death; from childhood to age," Evers writes but his characters' experiences are more complex. The past surges into the present when a man recalls a violent incident from his childhood, a son steals from his father and several individuals face moral dilemmas which will have lasting implications. Evers' everymen and women take us down roads taken at the same time as making us imagine how life could have turned out differently.

Comments