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Gerard Donovan


Gerard Donovan was born in Ireland and currently lives in New York. He is the author of the novels Sunless, Julius Winsome and Schopenhauer’s Telescope, which was nominated for the Booker Prize.


Short story collections

Young Irelanders (Overlook Press, 2008)

(also published as Country of the Grand, (Faber, 2008)) 

Reviewed by Majella Cullinane



Interview with Gerard Donovan

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Gerard Donovan: A couple of the stories began life in the early nineties, before I ever had a serious interest in writing fiction, and a couple were written a year or two ago. Most of them are about five years old. All were revised and re-worked many times, and they changed focus, some dramatically, over the years as my own experiences changed and my style began to work its way to the surface. In that way they went through many lives, with different characters and even plots. They contain layers of stories that were written and discarded, and a couple of the pieces harbour a character or two from stories that didn't make it but that I cannibalized. I can see traces remain here and there like echoes from the sides, and I like that effect, so much like life in that respect, where every object has two or three invisible associations and memories. And I'm able to trace the history of my style through some of them. Glass is the oldest, Archeologists is the newest. I've never put so much effort into anything. I'd be afraid to add up all the time, but it's at least equal to the time I spent at my novels.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

GD: Now and then, yes, but I got over it quickly. I really had to wait for the stories to suggest their own unity rather than have one imposed on them, some artful attempt at binding them under one cover for the sake of it. That unity did not arrive until late. The stories began to lean in a certain direction as if under the weight of an influence I myself did not detect. The feel of a collection emerged from that time on.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

GD: The arrangement was difficult. The stories that were not included withered on the vine and wanted no more attention. As for the arrangement, I once studied music for a time, and in thinking about an order, I employed a sense of changing keys as part of the decision. I tried to arrange them tonally, paying attention to beginnings and endings. The thorn in the side of arranging stories is that I could not shake loose the conviction that each one ought to be independent too. But ultimately, beginning with a morning story (Morning Swimmers) and ending with an evening story (Visit) was an effort to create the space of a natural day for the stories.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

GD:  Something we enter after it has begun and leave before it has finished, a form with its own battery of resonance and suggestion that lasts far beyond the final line.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

GD: Absolutely. My ideal reader is a lay reader with no particular axe to grind, a person who has lived a life or two or five already, someone who does not want to be hammered over the head with metaphors, familiar associations such as brand names, plots that reflect what happened yesterday, or exotic subject matter that relies on being different for its strength. A reader who does not need or desire validation but is nevertheless in love enough with living to want to witness more of it, in a delayed sense, in stories. That "delay" is what intrigues me about writing, and I wonder if it's what attracts readers to the written word.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
collection, anything at all?

GD: I'd be interested to know if the reader sympathises with any of the characters. If the reader senses that she is present in the stories, can see and hear the sounds around her, can trace her own blood running in the characters as they face their situations. If the reader responded to their plight. I suppose I'm talking about harmony: whether the tonal sound I've put into the stories is the same sound the reader hears.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?

GD: Good and something else. I keep realizing that more people read them than I previously thought. I'm not that especially well known, I'm not to be found in airports or doctors' offices, so it's always a revelation when so many people seem to know about one or more of my novels, and indeed now this collection. I have the sense that more and more people are reading my work, and that's a territory I'll navigate while (I hope) still paying the same attention to what I'm writing.

TSR: What are you working on now?

GD: A novel set in the west of Ireland.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

GD: Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now (the new selected release with the Patrick McGrath introduction). I think she's a genius. B. Traven's The Night Visitor (for the second time recently). And finally, Andres Dubus' Selected Short Stories.