Review: Being Various – New Irish Short Stories

It's not always about competence

The great challenge for most aspiring contemporary authors (aspiring to awards or prizes that is, rather than ‘merely’ publication) is to create meaning and significance. Without these attributes the work is unlikely to get past the editor, who in turn knows it won’t get past the sales and marketing team. There is nothing wrong with this. Who wants to read anything with no meaning or significance?  A useful synonym for significance is ‘identity’. This is the social construct de jour; something we are all it seems in search of and the possession of which gives us individually and collectively significance and meaning. Or maybe it is the other way around.

Faber and Lucy Caldwell have given themselves a head start with this collection of short stories by calling them Irish and bestowing them with identity by their selection. They are mostly by women, mostly by residents of Eire, mostly by native born Irish people: but not exclusively. Men, Northern Irish and immigrants are represented.  There is contemporaneity in their diversity and this is clearly intended to be a meaningful collection whose contributors have been given (maybe new, maybe additional) significance by inclusion..

After this recognition, the authors – known or unknown – must survive on their merits. There is no pleasure or point in subjecting their individual efforts to critique. Either the idea of the collection, its cover, the foreword or a brief flick through the pages appeal or they don’t. After that one can rely on publisher and curator/editor to deliver decent quality writing. Unlike a novel, the progenitors of which demand you spend serious money, time and intellectual effort on their offering and so must expect an equally serious evaluation, the short story writer asks but a short span of attention. Love a piece and you can dwell; dislike, and another item awaits.

Everything in this collection is competently done. The writers know their craft. There is enough sense of identity, significance and meaning to satisfy a socially concerned reader whether possessed of specific cultural affinities to Ireland or not. I’d take it in bite sized chunks though. The diversity of origin doesn’t entirely translate to the content in tone which at its brightest tends to andante. As I was reading a voice in my head whispered ‘Oh for James Joyce or Myles na gCopaleen’.

Edited by Lucy Caldwell, Being Various – New Irish Short Stories, published by Faber & Faber; 1SBN978-0-571-25527-6

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