SINCE 2001, Geraldine Mills has published six books - each its own particular kind of gem - and yet she is much less famous than she should be.
If Mills spent less time fine tuning her writing, and more networking, which, in this context, mostly means, when necessary, pretending you think Rosita Boland has a point, and making sympathetic comments on the Facebook posts of those who imagine their lives ruined by literary cliques, then I have no doubt she would have at least been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize by now.
Literary networking is like prostitution, only with lower ethical standards and far inferior levels of customer satisfaction. Geraldine Mills happily leaves this darkest of arts to the professionals. Instead, she works away at stories and poems, which are honest about the awful, and blackly hilarious, stuff of life in a way that is often scary.
Hellkite, published by Arlen House, is her third collection of short-stories. Her prose is up there with that of George Orwell and Jonathan Swift, in that it is always clear as a window that has just been washed, with not a word added for merely decorative purposes.
The first sentence of the collection’s opener, Centre Of A Small Hell, is a perfect illustration of this quality: “The morning after his wife’s ashes were brought home, Bernard Curran took a sledgehammer to the hunting table out there in the yard where the air was still enough for snow.”
These are sad, laughable, stories of lives gone so ragged things are liable, at any moment, to get a little sinister. In The Best Man For The Job, the henpecked Jimmy thinks he hears “bouncing out in the garden”; hardly ever a good thing, in my limited experience. His wife, Dolores, tells him “It’s just your tinnitus acting up again”. Jimmy goes outside to find a man older than himself jumping up and down on his granddaughter’s trampoline:
“‘Good evening, sir’, he said, in such a polite voice you could tell he wasn’t from around these parts. ‘If I may be so bold to say, this is a high-quality trampoline. It has put some much needed Je ne sais quoi back into me’.”
This is a scene worthy of David Lynch. A man is in bed, minding his own business, when his peace is disturbed by a probable Fine Gael voter jumping up and down on his grand-daughter’s trampoline in the middle of the night.
This has never happened to me. But I somehow know how Jimmy feels. It is a great metaphor for the way we are, as we go on, constantly assaulted by strangeness just at that point when life looked as if it might be about to calm down for a bit.
Another fantastic story is, Foraging, in which yet another of Mills’ beleaguered males of a certain age is given a gift voucher by his wife for a night class titled: Beginners Guide to Avoiding Adultery. In this book, Geraldine Mills takes us roughly by the hand, as she forensically examines the strange and terrible places which most of us have at least visited, and where some of us live all the time.