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
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
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
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
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.
Publisher: Exposure Publishing
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.
with Pat Jourdan
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