You’ll never get more black Irish than this, some without much humor, other with very dark and wonderful humor. And I write that as a compliment to the rich voice of this remarkable author. I have to confess that this is the first time I have read anything by Edna O’Brien. I must reform myself and read much more.
The opening story, “Shovel Kings,” takes the reader into the darkness of life both outside–specifically London–and inside Ireland, where life is sustained, if at all, by drink where these characters live in poverty and suffer from abuse, told to the narrator, awaiting an appointment with a psychotherapist, by Rafferty, an exile of sorts whose life could be summarized by this sentence in the story: “Nothing was wrong…but nothing was right, either.” I would say there was much that was wrong. As for the title, well it summarizes the existential lot of the Irish men who came to labor, for naught, in London.
In “Sinners,” aging Delia has “lost that most heartfelt rapport that she once had with God,” her prayers coming only from her lips, not “from deep within anymore.” Delia’s is an abode–that is also a small bed and breakfast–much in need of refreshing: wallpapers, paints, towels…everything. She is the mother of five, one dead, but they are like the wallpapers, faded images only, no longer present in her lonely life. Hers had not been a happy marriage, of course! Few are apparently in Edna O’Brien’s works. Is there any happiness in any Irish households? One wonders when reading these brilliant stories.
In “Madame Cassandra” Millie speaks in first person outside the caravan carrying Madame Cassandra, the gypsy seer, who appears not to wish to met with Millie–and the reader soon learns why. Millie reveals this about her past: “I cannot tell you what a relief it is to be here…to be able to let off a little steam.” A little steam??!! Oh, no, this is a woman filled with wrath. And, of course, the sbuject of her discourse, filled with allusions to various mythologies, is her errant husband.
Okay! When these two sentences soon reveal themselves in “Black Flowers,” “She didn’t know him very well. She had volunteered to give painting lessons in the prison in the Midlands where he was serving a long sentence,” then you know you’re in for a good read.
I could write a lot more about this collection of stories, but hopefully this is enough of a taste so that you will want to order a copy. This is a collection of excellently written short stories from a great author. They are not action packed and there are no car chases, but the writing is good quality and interesting. It is an excellent book to dip in and out of if you have only short bursts of time to spend relaxing with a good book – the short journey to work or even a trip to the bathhroom – come all; we all read on the toilet! I bought the book after listening ton interview with Edna O’Brien on the radio and have loved it. I can fully recommend it to anyone that likes good literature and relaxing.