“...all still and beautiful in the moonlight...”

Mary Costello, from Academy Street:

And then, when Tess is ten, there is a real wedding in the house. It is summer again, after a long winter when animals died in the fields and snow fell in May, and Oliver came home. There is something about each day now that she holds dear. Oliver's return for one thing, and something she noticed on those winter nights when she would kneel on her bed and melt a peephole on the frozen windowpane and view everything under snow - the lawn and the trees, the walls and barns and outhouses - all still and beautiful in the moonlight: the feeling that she has grown older and stronger, and safer, and the world has survived and become a little lovelier.

I love the idyllic image of Tess looking out into the winter night, even as I shudder in realization of frost being on the inside of the window, and how cold that house must have been. Her family isn't stricken with poverty - they seem to live a solid existence, as farmers in rural Ireland - so I guess the coldness must have been more emblematic of the different living standards of the 1940s, when this scene is set.

March 19, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Val Mulkerns

The Irish writer Val Mulkerns has passed away, at age 93. She seems to be little-known here, but much beloved in Ireland, if these tributes from the likes of Anne Enright, Sebastian Barry, Colm Tóibín and others are any indication. She had a unique career: two early novels and a tenure at the esteemed literary review The Bell, then a twenty-plus-year hiatus to raise a family, and then a return to writing with several well-regarded story collections and two more novels.

I discovered Mulkerns during last year's Irish March, from her story "The World Outside" which appeared in the collection 44 Irish Short Stories. I haven't found any of her books in stores or my public library, but I did manage to order her final novel, Very Like A Whale, via interlibrary loan. I'm not sure how soon it will arrive - it wasn't even in my library's immediate library system, but from the WorldCat system, so who knows how far away it's coming from. I might have to extend Irish March a few weeks into April.

March 16, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Virginia Woolf, on Ring Lardner

...Mr. Lardner has talents of a remarkable order. With extraordinary ease and aptitude, with the quickest strokes, the surest touch, the sharpest insight, he lets Jack Keefe the baseball player cut out his own outline, fill in his own depths, until the figure of the foolish, boastful, innocent athlete lives before us. As he babbles out his mind on paper there rise up friends, sweethearts, the scenery, town, and country—all surround him and make him up in his completeness...

I’m about due for another reading of You Know Me Al. Incidentally, I read The Real Dope (which included the story featured at the above link) a few years ago, and really didn’t care for it. The Jack Keefe baseball stories are great, the war stories not. 

March 7, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...each different face bright and burning as sparks of fire...”

In Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding, Ellen Fairchild navigates the outdoor darkness at her daughter's wedding reception in the Mississippi Delta, circa 1923:

Ellen strolled under the trees, with Battle somewhere near, looking among the dancers for her daughters. The lanterns did not so much shine on the dancers as light up the mistletoe in the trees. She peered ahead with a kind of vertigo. It was the year - wasn't it every year? - when they all looked alike, all dancers alike smooth and shorn, all faces painted to look like one another. It was too the season of changeless weather, of the changeless world, in a land without hill or valley. How could she ever know anything of her own daughters, how find them, like this? Then in a turn of her little daughter India's skirt as she ran partnerless through the crowd - so late! - as if a bar of light had broken a glass into a rainbow she saw the dancers become the McLeoud bridesmaid, Mary Lamar Mackey (freed from her piano and whirling the widest of all), become Robbie, and her own daughter Shelley, each different face bright and burning as sparks of fire to her now, more different and further apart than the stars.

That's seven characters mentioned in one paragraph, but only a fraction of the sprawling Fairchild clan, plus their plantation workers and townspeople. The sheer quantity of characters is both a strength and weakness in the book. If I recall correctly, Ellen and Battle have nine children, but I can't even name them all.

February 28, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“A person who does not believe in tomorrow does not repaint his house.” - Henning Mankell, writing about Angola in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup (2006)

February 23, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Language lives longer than people and therefore its permanence is vital. It moves us from one generation to the next; it’s immortal. Writing isn’t elitist: it’s the deepest thing we have. It’s as essential as breathing. It brings other paradoxes to us through language.” - Edna O'Brien

This year's Irish March will be devoted to the fiction of Irish women writers. O'Brien's The Little Red Chairs is up first. I really enjoyed her Wild Decembers a few years ago.

February 22, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“His writings writhed and ached with twists and turns and tergiversations, inept words, fanciful repetitions, far-fetched verbosity and long Latin-based words.” - Muriel Spark, describing her character, the fictional writer Hector Bartlett, in her novel A Far Cry from Kensington

I really need to finally read Spark.

February 20, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies.” - Joseph Conrad 

February 17, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Though I am sure you would enjoy a visit as much as I did, I think that, in the long run, the Scandinavian sanity would be too much for you, as it is for me. The truth is, we are both only really happy living among lunatics.” - W.H. Auden 

February 16, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Mr. Hemingway’s style, this prose stripped to its firm young bones, is far more effective, far more moving, in the short story than in the novel. He is, to me, the greatest living writer of short stories; he is, also to me, not the greatest living novelist.” - Dorothy Parker

February 5, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)