by Nuala Ní Chonchúir
I love a beautiful looking book – I warm towards a work if I enjoy its
physicality. Never judge a book by its cover? I almost always do. And
so I was delighted when Simon Van Booy's collection Love Begins in Winter
fell into my letterbox and turned out to be a thing of beauty. It has a
romantic blue sepia cover image of trees and lovers; simple title
lettering; French flaps; and pages with jagged edges. Its old-fashioned
yet contemporary prettiness made me feel positive towards the
collection because it looked and felt lovely – like a book I'd be happy
to spend time with. And so I was: the writing did not disappoint.
In Frank O'Connor's study of short
fiction he proposed:
is in the short story at its most characteristic, something we do not
often find in the novel – an intense awareness of human loneliness."
Van Booy’s characters most definitely have the lonely voices of Frank
O'Connor’s "submerged populations" these are people trapped in their
own thoughts about the past as they try to make sense of the here and
now. They often far prefer their own company to that of others, and as
O'Connor also said, they "wander about the fringes of society", never
quite fitting in.
In the story The Missing Statues,
for example, we find a tale about the incongruity of Las Vegas which is
peopled with loners: a poor child, his lone-parent mother, each of her
lousy boyfriends, a verbose gondolier and a priest. These characters
operate in singular, individualistic ways while forming an ensemble
that carries the theme of the story – the realisation of love – forward.
There is a patchwork quality to the
title story Love Begins
– it is not seamless. It stitches together Bruno’s lonely thoughts on
his life and regrets; Hannah’s parallel story of loss; and various
philosophical musings. But, like any good patchwork, all these parts
fit together pleasingly.
A less successful segmented story
is the one set in Ireland The
Coming and Going of Strangers
which concerns Walter the Romany gypsy. It's a sweet story of young
love but elements of its Irish-ness didn't ring true; the main
character's gypsy-ness mainly, but some of the word choices also
jarred: "crib" where an Irish person would say "cot", for example.
Booy is a master of the atmospheric scene written in lyrical prose. He
mentions colour a lot – his descriptions have a sort of filmic
simplicity, and the simple language used makes for cinematic, seeable
scenes. A paragraph from The
City of Windy Trees will illustrate this:
he opened it and found a page of blue handwriting and a photograph of a
little girl with brown hair. The girl was wearing a navy polyester
dress dotted with small red hearts. She also had a pink clip in her
stories in this collection are rich in interesting detail – the young
doctor who bites her lover; the boy who gets stuck in a tree and dies –
and they are obsessed with how childhood events influence adult
life-decisions. Simon Van Booy writes with charm and style; the prose
is spare and the sentences are often short which gives a staccato-like
feel to the narrative at times. It may be a stretch but, sometimes,
because of the unadorned, elegant prose, it feels like reading a good
translation from a European language.
In the story The Missing Statues
the priest character says:
"…I like stories very much…they
help me to understand myself better."
Clearly we are in the presence of a
writer who also likes stories very much and, as a bonus, he tells them
Read the title story
from this collection at Harper Collins
| Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway, Ireland. Her
third short fiction collection, Nude, was published in September 2009
by Salt Modern Fiction and launched at the Frank O’Connor
International Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland, on the 18th of
that month. Her poetry pamphlet Portrait
of the Artist with a Red Car
will be published by Templar Poetry in October 2009. She blogs at http://womenrulewriter.blogspot.com/.
2009 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize
bio: Simon Van Booy was born in London and grew up in
rural Wales and Oxford. In 2002 he was awarded an MFA and won the H.R.
Hays Poetry Prize. His journalism has appeared in magazines and
newspapers including the New
York Times and the New
York Post. Van Booy is the author of The Secret Lives of People in
Love. He lives in New York City, where he teaches
part-time at the School of Visual Arts and at Long Island University
with Simon Van Booy
this book (used or
Publisher's Website: HarperCollins
Author's Recommended Bookseller: McNally Jackson, New York
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