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Nuala Ní Chonchúir


The outflow on the bath is like a keyhole; you stopper it with your toe and let the water lap in your ears, to block out the house…"

Reviewed by Kristin Thiel

The pieces in Nuala Ní Chonchúir's latest collection should definitely be called short fiction, instead of short stories because they are written from more of a poet's mind for language and the distillation of moments than a prose writer's arc of plot and character. An ekphrasis—with an examination of museums, painters, postcard prints of famous work, and the like—each piece seems itself to be framed. As one must imagine the greater context of a still life of fruit—Who bought the pear resting here? Will they eat the fruit? Why did they choose to paint it?—a reader must also imagine what lies outside each fiction's frame. 

Ekphrasis also happens to be one of the piece's titles, and it is a clear example of this framing technique. In other words, a reader will finish its barely two pages with perhaps a shake of the head. A couple paragraphs on Édouard Manet's "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe", followed by a couple on Pablo Picasso's "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe", and then on Bow Wow Wow's "See Jungle!" Album cover describes each painting, which presumably builds from the previous. Are we doing anything more than study in comparative art? The first person narrator stands outside the works looking at them, but we learn little about this I. 

Still, some of the pieces are pretty complete stories grounded in very understandable details. Madonna Irelanda's female narrator is heartbreaking in its explanation of a crumbled marriage: "He could never help pointing out where I was going wrong with a painting…He often told me he was jealous of me, as if that was my fault," and "Ex-husband. That always sounds like I'm trying to state a position…I hear my own defensiveness". The narrator sits "sucking in" outside air; her ex mocks her tears: "‘Your bladder was always too near to your eye'". 

Unmothered, from which the pulled quote comes, likewise bodyslams the reader: The narrator's child has just died, and while a child without parents is an orphan and an adult who's lost a spouse is a widow or widower, "the mother of a dead child is left with nothing; her special name is wiped out with her child's passing". Chonchúir tells a solid story about the narrator and her husband having an intimate dinner at friends' house for the first time since their child's death. 

One of the delights in Chonchúir's collection is her tidbits of humor around the impossibilities of talking about art. In Ekphrasis, the narrator laments the black-and-white version of Bow Wow Wow's cover art—the narrator's description of the color copy points out the bright hues and says the other simply "didn't look as good". The narrator of As I Look explains the important differences between naked and nude: 

"Naked means unprotected or bare, stripped or destitute. Nude means unclothed, or being without the usual coverings. Think about it. There are a lot of nude ladies in this gallery, but are they really naked?" 

But Chonchúir's artistic medium, of the written word, is of course (usually, and in this case) done only in black-and-white. And while nude/naked do often contrast with positive/negative connotations, the exposure and vulnerability, the striped-down-to-the-truth-ness, inherit in nakedness is so often why readers read. What does a written collection entitled Nude, not Naked, tell its readers? Readers must look outside the frame for this one.

Read a story from this collection in Horizon

Kristin Thiel is a fiction writer, reviewer, editor, and acquirer based in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Find her via her Web site or Twitter, @KristinWithPen.

Kristin's other Short Reviews: Derek Green "New World Order"

Stephanie Dickinson "Road of Five Churches"

Publisher: Salt Modern Fiction

Publication Date: 2009

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?: No, third.

Author bio: Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a full-time fiction writer and poet living in Galway county. Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College and a Masters in Translation Studies from Dublin City University and teaches creative writing on a part-time basis. Nude is her third collection of short fiction.

Read two interviews with Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Salt 


The Author's Recommended Bookseller: Charlie Byrne's Bookshop


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If you liked this book you might also like....

Elizabeth Baines "Balancing on the Edge of the World"

Kevin Barry "There are Little Kingdoms"

Nuala Ní Chonchúir "The Wind Across the Grass" & "To the World of Men, Welcome"

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