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Rainy Pavements

Pat Jourdan

 
" if he looked down at the road, the oblong blue-grey cobbles were exactly the same, little dips and hollows in them, grass growing in crevices, water left from previous rainfalls, small stones and nails and scraps of paper, and it was a summer evening and he was a youngster out in that wide brightness, and he would be wandering home to that large black building on the corner and there would be laughter and Mum and Pop and all his brothers and sisters and Annie Kelly, the maid, fussing about the plates and the pans and the stove, and the cat sitting on the range, and visitors always just about to go but staying"

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

It’s no surprise to learn that Pat Jourdan was born in Liverpool and has lived for many years in Ireland; the rich language, humour and warmth of both places shine through these stories. Jourdan deploys her artist’s eye to quiet effect, drawing our attention to colours and contrasts, and to the depths beneath the surfaces she describes so well. These are classic short stories, easy to read, as if they flowed from Jourdan’s pen. At her best, she writes incredibly movingly about brief moments in the lives of ordinary people, instances which invert long-held convictions or prejudices. Things are never the same at the end of these stories, for the characters or the lives they lead. 

In Afternoon Tea, a sister witnesses her brother’s decline into dementia as they both reach old age. To begin with, she tolerates her brother’s frequent visits and reminiscences with a sense of exasperation, taking pride in her much sharper wits. Gradually she comes to appreciate the comfort there is in his recalling their childhood, of which all that remains is a cupboard filled with odds and ends, crockery, "cups snaked into each other" and other keepsakes. 

In Coronation Trifle, a young girl is taken to watch the Queen’s Coronation on the television set belonging to a wealthy woman known to her mother. To the girl’s eyes, the house seems a palace of extravagant comforts, but her mother discovers it’s a brothel and resolves never to speak to the "madam" again, spelling an end to the wealthy woman’s patronage. 

Another story told through the eyes of a young girl, Tap-Dancing, gives an equally acute insight into an era during which many lived on the brink of poverty in cities such as Liverpool. Jourdan does a remarkable job of recreating the taste and texture of that era, and it is in these stories she excels as a writer. 

There are other stories that do not work so well, coming across almost as summaries when compared with the rich detail of stories such as The Decorator, in which a teenage daughter gets a glimpse of the adult world lying just under the surface of her everyday life. I found it hard to engage with Homeland Security, an almost-futuristic tale of a plot to rid a city of its tourists. The story is filled with wry humour and the twist at the end is fittingly sharp, but it did not move me in the same way as, for instance, Grounded, which tells the story of a lost woman living a secret life at an airport. In Grounded, Jourdan peels back each layer with skill and timing; the story is an exercise in craft and credible imagination. 

Equally well-crafted and executed is April Afternoon, which opens with the heroine on the verge of being murdered. From here, Jourdan draws us back into the story that prefaced this crisis; as good a crime story as any I’ve read recently. Jourdan won the Molly Keane Story Prize with Escape, a joyously dark tale of an Irish farming family in meltdown. Keane is a hard act for any writer to follow but her inspiration is palpable in Escape which reels home much like Kieran, its hero, at the end of a drunken self-pitying binge. 

There are stories here that I’ll remember for a long time. At her best, Jourdan has something of William Trevor’s talent for capturing the most intimate instances between people and laying these out for our consideration, without garnish or expectation: a quiet telling. I hope to read many more stories with the resonance and warmth of Grounded and Afternoon Tea, and have no doubt Jourdan will deliver.

Read one of the stories by this author on Author v Author

 Sarah Hilary is an award-winning writer whose fiction appears in Smokelong Quarterly, The Fish Anthology 2008, Prick of the Spindle, The Best of Every Day Fiction, and in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice.
Sarah's other Short Reviews: Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 

Sophie Hannah "The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets"

Benjamin Percy "Refresh, Refresh"


Chavisa Woods "Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind"

Jennifer Pelland "Unwelcome Bodies"

Laura Solomon "Alternative Medicine"

 

PublisherExposure Publishing

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?No

Author bio: Pat Jourdan grew up in Liverpool and has lived in Ireland for several years. Trained as a painter at Liverpool College of Art, she has had several exhibitions in both countries. Her paintings feature on the covers of her books, as well as those of Orbis, Crannog and Microbe.

Read an interview with Pat Jourdan


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Maria Crossan & Eleanor Rees (eds) "The Book of Liverpool"

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