by Majella Cullinane
the early 1990s, Ireland has experienced unprecedented change and
development, not only in terms of its economy, but also on a
socio-political level. A country once known for mass emigration and
unemployment, Ireland has evolved from one of the poorest countries in
Europe to one of the wealthiest. Gerard Donovan’s collection of
fourteen stories, Young
Irelanders, [published in the UK as Country of the Grand] deals with a variety of themes: bereavement,
infidelity, relationships, and the conflict between the demands of the
present and the past in this new, affluent Ireland.
underlying thread that runs through many of his stories is: nothing is
as it seems. In the first story, Morning
Swimmers, an overheard conversation forces a man to not
only re-evaluate friendship, but also his relationship with his wife,
whom he discovers has been having an affair. The theme of infidelity is
explored again in How
Long Until when on a journey across Ireland a man asks his
wife how long after he was dead would she wait before being with
dialogue-driven narrative Shoplifting
in the USA also finds a man confronting uncomfortable
truths about his wife, and discovering that ambiguity, though often
appealing, can also be precarious. In Another Life, a
woman travels to a house in Galway after the death of her husband and
realises that in order to reconcile her memory with recently uncovered
secrets, she will need to "see what had been true in their
Country of the Grand
centres on a solicitor, who despite living in an Ireland of economic
success feels displaced and yearns for the past. “He remembered
gathering hay one week when he was nine and the summers seemed longer
than they were now.” The desire to reconnect with the past is also the
focus of the story Archaeologists.
This story centres on the conflict between recording the past and the
frantic pace of development in Ireland, a theme which is reflected in
the relationship breakdown between the two characters; one who has an
overwhelming desire to preserve the past, and the other who believes it
sufficient to catalogue it and to ultimately move forward.
theme of bereavement and loss are central to the stories Glass and The Summer Birds.
a young boy loses his father and finds comfort for his grief in
silence. In this story, Donovan shows a deftness for poignant and
subtle emotion and ends: “I returned to my room, undressed, turned out
the light and listened to the silent white storm heave against the
two stories which stood out the most for me were By Irish Nights and
Dietz. The first is a story inspired by a newspaper story
read in a café, and unusually, it is written using the 3rd person
plural "they", in order I think to embody how "they," the dead, haunt
the living, and how "they" are also haunted by the living. With honed
and lyrical prose, it is a moving and emotionally wrought story. Harry Dietz is a
strangely gripping tale of an old man whose lost memory and sense of
disconnectedness see him travel across an American city and meet a
range of characters which catapult the story to its climatic and
a variety of narrative techniques, Young
Irelanders is an evocative and fine collection, which has
not only faithfully captured the changing face of modern Ireland, but
also the human condition.
Cullinane was born in Ireland and currently lives in Glasgow. Writing
awards include a Sean Dunne Poetry Prize, a Hennessy for Emerging
Poetry, an Irish Arts Council Award, and in 2007 she was long-listed
for the Fish Short Histories Fiction Prize. More recently, she’s worked
as a Writer in Residence in Scotland.
Publisher: The Overlook Press
(published by Faber in the UK as Country of
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.
with Gerard Donovan
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