Finding solace in alcohol and crows

PEOPLE LIKE happy stories - in the same way they like Juicy Fruit chewing gum and fizzy cola bottles. However, it is a terrible idea to live on a diet of artificially sweetened happiness.

It has been known, in extreme cases, to turn sentient human beings into quivering wrecks who find meaning in the lyrics of Gary Barlow. Thankfully, Braided Loves by Ger Burke (Wordsonthestreet ) and Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart by Máire T Robinson (Doire Press ) are entirely sweetener free.

Braided Loves, Burke’s second novel, is a bumpy bus ride through alcoholism, set against the backdrop of 1980s Ireland. It has everything: bedwetting, awkward sex, and school staffrooms populated by nuns called Sister Pius. Burke brings to life that now, thankfully, dead Ireland. Teresa Goldstein is a secondary school teacher in the west of Ireland. She is married to a Jewish man, David.

One of her jobs is to talk to adolescent students about matters sexual. The irony of finding herself in this role is not lost on Teresa, her repressed upbringing having left her with more than a few issues in the bedroom department. Teresa’s reaching for the bottle at times of stress is described with a suitable lack of glamour. The description of her washing machine and gin home life make you want to hide in the wardrobe and never come out. The paranoia and denial that stalk the alcoholic mind are made entirely real, as is the tension ever present in the alcoholic household, even on a good day.

Braided Loves though is not just another addiction story but a profoundly political novel. Central is the fact it is set in the grey Ireland I grew up in, the country Breda O’Brien and John Waters mourn for. Most readers will, I think, agree: there’s nothing there we should want back.

Máire T Robinson is an irreverent writer. Ship Out On The Sea, the opening story of Mixtape, starts: “Sure any eejit could tell you that to win the Tidy Towns Contest you need to get yourself a boat, fill it with geraniums, and moor it beneath the town’s welcome sign.”

Come On In is a shockingly frank story of less than two pages which tells more about why young people become addicted to drugs like heroin than a hundred conferences addressed by eminent psychologists: “Your mam tells people her daughter fell in with a bad crowd. Too trusting – easily led. But they didn’t lead you anywhere, did they? You sought them out.”

What middle aged men in detached houses tend to forget is that there is much about society that is hateful: hypocrisies we have made our peace with make the thinking young person some days despise us.

Alienation is Robinson’s big subject. Her stories display a hostility to society which I absolutely admire. The Moon Asked The Crow is about a divorced man who escapes his dread of winter, and the forced phone call to his children on Christmas Day, by taking up bird watching and becoming fixated on one particular crow. Máire T Robinson’s stories are unbeautiful truths darkly told.

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