Women with dark glasses and boyos with big ideas

DESPITE IT’S rich tradition, which stretches from Frank O’Connor to Claire Keegan, the short story is currently Ireland’s most neglected literary genre.

It is notoriously difficult to find a publisher willing to risk publishing a collection of them. A poet with any talent at all will eventually achieve publication, as long as he or she occasionally leaves the house to send poems out.

The same is not true of our short story writers. The result is that serious talent gets overlooked. In this context, Wordsonthestreet have done short story fans a big service by publishing Moya Roddy’s Other People.

Roddy’s stories are driven by narrative rather than by language; she is not one to use fancy sounding words for their own sake. She opens her stories in a way that ensures you will read on. I love the first two sentences in ‘Biddy’s Research’: “Biddy never took any chances. She knew there was a world-wide conspiracy.”

Roddy’s portrait of the crackpot Biddy, with her “slight nervous tick” in her right eye, which she hides by always wearing dark glasses, is so convincing it made me vow to avoid women with dark glasses until at least the end of January.

In ‘Away Games’ Roddy skilfully investigates the issue of identity, specifically “Irishness”, in the aftermath of a playground fight at a London school. For me, though, the best story here is the one that gives the book its title.

‘Other People’ is a sharp portrayal of the monumental insecurities so many writers suffer from. Though Moya Roddy is very much a literary writer, her breezy style borrows something from the best popular fiction writers; her stories pull the reader in so you don’t notice the time passing.

Any Chance of a Start? is the topical debut novel by Annaghdown based writer Michael Caulfield. The three eldest Folan brothers - Christy, Iggy and Mikey - leave the family farm in Mayo to work on building sites in London in the late 1970s.

Like so many Irish emigrants before them, they work hard and do well, especially Christy who is “the entrepreneur” of the trio. Back home, something called ‘the Celtic Tiger’ is born.

The three boyos return home, or at least to Dublin. Their youngest brother, Tommy, who narrates the story, joins them in the capital. They get involved in something called “property development”, which, as we know, can only ever turn out well.

For a long time things do go well: “Because of its location and proximity to the docks, the property in Harcourt Street was sold to an American company, for six times what we had paid for it. They intended to build a large computer factory, a hotel, several blocks of offices and a state of the art shopping centre.”

What could possibly go wrong? If I had one criticism it would be that the entire novel is written in a breathless, almost soap opera style. That said, it is a lively story, full of wit, and Caulfield clearly knows the types he writes about.

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