Here are brief reviews for a couple of recent reads. Both are Irish lit, #readingirelandmonth19 having been the perfect excuse to finally pick them off my shelves!
Paradise by Edna O’Brien
Published by Faber & Faber, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This short and engaging story follows a young woman as she sets off on vacation with her wealthy, much older partner. Upon learning that she is unable to swim, he hires an instructor to teach her, with the understanding that she will display her newly learned skill for him and his friends at the holiday’s end.
This was my first experience of O’Brien’s fiction, and though brief, it has certainly piqued my interest. She successfully creates a quietly off-kilter tone; the simmering threat that we are building towards something uncanny. This, coupled with her evocative prose and strong imagery made for a great little taster of her work.
There’s definitely some allegory at play, but O’Brien doesn’t deign to hand us all the answers, which leaves the latent meaning open to interpretation. To me, it spoke about how mentally destructive it is to try and change yourself to appease others, as well as the self-serving, toxic brand of pride that can arise when the wealthy try to ‘help’ those beneath them on the social ladder.
You can pick up a copy of Paradise by clicking here.
Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin
Published by John Murray, 2017 (first published by Stinging Fly Press, 2015)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This was a solid and competently constructed collection of contemporary short stories. Nearly all of the eleven offerings are united by a general tone of melancholy; captured in a kind of quiet, everyday loneliness, and the theme of yearning for a sense of connection or escape. As an overarching concept, I thought this worked very effectively, and made the collection feel cohesive.
On the flipside, however, it also meant the stories began to blend together somewhat, with few standout moments to help differentiate individual tales. As a result, it’s the kind of collection that I will remember for its feel, rather than its plot or character arcs. I think, therefore, that it would have benefitted from a greater sense of variety; some light and shade to add definition and impact. Still, McLaughlin clearly has a knack for crafting a specific mood, and I’d certainly check out more of her work in the future.
You can pick up a copy of Dinosaurs on Other Planets by clicking here.