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The Wind Across the Grass

Nuala Ní Chonchúir

" Going Home. The hit of it. The bring-you-down feelings. Despite your happy childhood. Everything’s the same but changed. You’re like a giant in a familiar land, nowadays you find you must climb over the bushes instead of through them."

Reviewed by Julia Bohanna

I have always felt that poets are more alive than other people, that they see exquisite and painful detail in even the most mundane and neglected parts of life. Nuala Ní Chonchúir epitomises the poet/writer who uses the intensity of her poetry skills in prose to produce, in The Wind Across the Grass, sensualist microcosms of love, life and love gone astray. Here is a sharp but compassionate eye that can make us believe that these strange and wonderful characters breathe, hope and suffer. In each small neat chapter – for the stories are perhaps shorter than in many collections – there is one main character from whom the story spreads out like mist. Sometimes there is a strong and feisty Irish voice but, as in Odalisque, Nuala can turn her hand to a French painter’s muse or, in Any Man’s Fancy, a Scottish embalmer – all with equal aplomb. 

The attraction of each piece, some of which are so tiny they are like musical interludes, lies in strong assured beginnings that often lead through to ‘dying fall’ endings rather than punches, to great effect. This is a writer not predominately enslaved to plot. It is the exploration of character and language that she makes dance, work for their supper. For example Babby, the title character in The Queen of all Ireland, has ‘mangled’ rather than ‘tangled’ hair – in a single word she has encapsulated this wayward woman who is both monstrous and admirable. 

As with the most interesting writers of short stories, we are privy to the writer’s obsessions and they translate eloquently enough to fascinate us. Here are strong themes of water, blood and the limitations of mortality. Particularly water. In her website, in a section entitled Why Short Fiction, Nuala talks about a remembered Dublin where drowned people were rumoured to have been pulled from the Liffey River. She uses this haunted imagining to place ghosts in the mind of the reader. 

The particular success of The Wind Across the Grass is the way each story may resonate for the reader to varying degrees until eventually they have a mirror to their own face, their own life. I was struck particularly with the soured memory of childhood in The River Flows On – so acutely observed and melancholy that it stayed with me longer than should be healthy. A good writer, like any good artist, should perturb and make us think. So with this criteria, she fully deserves all accolades accorded to her. 

Why not read a book where dead sheep, foxes and pigs are woven in amongst the lovers and the lost in clever and thoughtful prose? I have learnt a great deal from this book, both as a reader and proactive writer. Language can hit hard with plain dynamic sentences but then soften with poetic resonance in the same story. Speed up, slow down – like an erratic heart. Most of all, that poets are more alive than most of us and a poet who then writes prose can be formidable.

A freelance journalist and short story writer, Julia Bohanna has won or be placed in many short story competitions including the The Lancet Fact to Fiction Competition 2007 (Joint winner), The Guardian/Virgin Trains Short Story Competition 2007 (runner up),‘Woman and Home' Short Story Competition 2006 (winner).


Arlen House

Publication Date:May 2004

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin in 1970 and now lives in Galway County. Nuala teaches creative writing part-time. She has collected many literary awards and published two short story collections: The Wind Across the Grass and To The World of Men. She also has two poetry collections: Welcome Molly’s Daughter and Tattoo:Tatú. 

Read an interview  with Nuala Ní Chonchúir

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