Selected Stories
 by SeŠn ” FaolŠin

Constable and Company, 1978 hardback

SeŠn ” FaolŠin was born in Cork in 1900. He was baptized as John Whelan, but adapted the Irish form of his name, which is in turn anglicized to Sean O'Faolain. He fought with the Republican side in the Irish Civil War, and taught in the U.S. in the 1930s. He edited the literary journal The Bell from 1940 to 1946. As well as novels and the short stories for which he is most famous, he wrote biography criticism and travel books. His main works are his short story collections Midsummer Night Madness, A Purse of Coppers, Teresa and other stories, The Man Who Invented Sin and other stories, The Finest Short Stories of Sean O'Faolain; The Stories of Sean O'Faolain, The Heat of the Sun, Foreign Affairs, Selected Stories and Collected Stories. His novels are A Nest of Simple Folk, Bird AloneCome Back to Erin
 and And Again.He wrote several critical studies and travel books. He was a member of AosdŠna, and was elected Saoi, AosdŠna’s highest accolade, in 1986. He died in 1991. 







"As far as Mel Meldrum was concerned l'affair Anna, as he was to call it, began one wet and windy April morning in 1944 when his chief clerk, Mooney, knocked at the door of his sanctum, handed him my letter, marked Personal and By Hand, and said that the bearer was an old lady in a black bonnet sitting outside in the main office 'shaking her blooming umbrella all over your new Turkish carpet'."

Reviewed by Tania Hershman


I spend so much of my time reading contemporary short stories, those published in the past year or two, so it was an absolute delight to read a book that is over 30 years old. And more than that, to become acquainted with SeŠn ” FaolŠin's stories. At first, I was reading them as research for my role as this year's judge of Munster Lit's
SeŠn ” FaolŠin short story competition, and then I was reading them just because I couldn't stop.

These stories were first published between 1947 and 1976, in various of
” FaolŠin's collections, and what struck me first is this wonderful combination of humour and the most serious of topics, be it love, death or religion - or often all three. The second thing that struck me is ” FaolŠin's gorgeous use of language and rhythm. For example, from The Faithless Wife:
"Adding it all up (he was a persistent adder-upper" only one problem had so far defeated him: that he was a foreigner and did not know what sort of woman Irish women are. It was not as if he had not done his systematic best to find out, beginning with a course of reading through the novels of her country. A vain exercise. With the exception of the Molly Bloom of James Joyce the Irish Novel had not only failed to present him with any fascinating woman but it had presented him with, in his sense of the word, no woman at all.
Here, it seems to me ” FaolŠin takes a large and amusing swipe at Irish writers but also at the Irish and perhaps the non-Irish, in one fell swoop - who would presume to learn about Irish women from novels! This story is a love story but it far more complex than that, as most of the stories in this book are. Loveless marriages where one party remained out of a sense of duty while carrying on an affair crop up quite often, but the characters are not black and white, they are not so easily condemned either for their unfaithfulness nor for their adherence to a failing marriage.

There is a great deal of loneliness running through these stories, a sort of angst to do not just with love and the lack of it but with misunderstandings that occur between people simply because we can never know what another person really thinks, feels, wants. Religion plays its part here, as in the astonishingly moving Lovers of the Lake, where the wife asks her lover to drive her so that she can go on a pilgrimage. Her lover is shocked by the request:
"'Do you mean that place with the island where they go around on their bare feet on sharp stones, and starve for days, and sit up all night ologroaning and ologoaning?' He got out of the chair, went over to the cigarette box on the bookshelves, and, with his back to her, said coldly, 'Are you going religious on me?'"
The story, which is told mostly from her point of view, begins lightly, but becomes more and more intense and surprising, and after I'd finished, I had to put the book down. It contained worlds, it dealt with issues that appeared on the surface to be particularly Irish but are far from it.  

An Inside Out Complex is another story that begins with apparent lightness but evolves into something far deeper. As ever,
” FaolŠin throws you straight in with the most intriguing  - and long, as is also common in these stories - opening line which is in fact the whole opening paragraph:
"So then, a dusky Sunday afternoon in Bray at a quarter to five o'clock, lighting up time at five fifteen, November 1st, All Souls' Eve, dedicated to the suffering of souls in Purgatory, Bertie Bolger, bachelor, aged forty-one or so, tubby, ruddy, greying, well know as a deal in antiques, less well-known as a conflator thereof, walking briskly along the seafront, head up to the damp breezes, turns smartly into the lounge of the Imperial Hotel for a hot toddy, singing in a  soldierly basso, 'my breast expanding to a ball'."
This purports to be assailing you with enormous amounts of information but in fact it is far more entertaining than informative and I defy any reader not to continue on! The story slowly reveals Bertie's "inside out complex" which has to do with envying those inside while he is outside, and how he goes about attempting to remedy it. Of course, nothing that can be predicted happens here. And the comedy which lulls you in gives way to a troubling and poignant tale about getting what we wish for.

This book is an excellent way to get a first taste of
SeŠn ” FaolŠin's stories. It has taught me a lesson about reading only the newest books: there is nothing old-fashioned about these stories, which are no less fresh, original and experimental now than they must have been 60 years ago. I'm only sorry it took me so long to find them.


Tania Hershman is founder and editor of The Short Review. Her collection, the White Road and other Stories (Salt, 2008), was commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. She is currently writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at Bristol University, working on a collection of biology-inspired short stories.

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

Paddy O'Reilly "The End of the World"

Annie Clarkson "Winter Hands"

Yannick Murphy "In a Bear's Eye"

Declan Meade (ed) "Let's Be Alone Together"

Lise Erdrich "Night Train"

Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing

Alexandra Chasin "Kissed By"

Tamar Yellin "Kafka in Bronteland"

Mary Miller "Big World"

Ali Smith "The First Person and Other Stories"

Chris Beckett "The Turing Test"

Petina Gappah "An Elegy for Easterly"

Sean Lovelace "How Some People Like Their Eggs"

Amnesty International "Freedom: An Anthology of Short Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

A L Kennedy "What Becomes"

Davy Byrnes Stories

Janice Galloway "Collected Stories"

Peter Orner "Esther Stories"
                     
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