Adam Kavanagh (15437978)
Irish Fiction After 2005 (ENG31360)
Submission Date: 17/05/2018 (Extension Granted)
What do you consider to be the distinctive achievements of the short story within contemporary Irish writing? Discuss with detailed reference to at least three short stories (by two authors or more) on the course.
The Clancy Kid
Development of relationships
Nothingness, uneventful, boring behaviour, minimalistic approach
Success in less is more
The Irish short story has a tendency to be misrepresented and overgeneralised in the works of some authors of recent times.
Their form often revolves around the outsider in their battle with social constraints and in which loneliness featured as the privileged emotion. The success of the Irish short story can be explained by virtue of its closeness to the oral storytelling tradition and its embeddedness within rural Irish culture. Most Irish novelists regard their society as odd, self-defeating and out-of-touch with other Western societies, unable to achieve the stable, universalised view of human life that they seek.
This essay will focus on how these stories achieve their own distinct attributes of conveying landscape, community and relationships in ways synonymous with Irish culture, and ultimately what make their collection of stories a great success.
There is often a lot of familiarity amongst native readers that require little to no explanation of the cultural context. Often, the writer assumes the reader has some familiarity with the place from the beginning. It sets up to give a natural feel to the landscape, which Barrett’s writing allows the “anxieties and claustrophobia of Glanbeigh as timeless”. (Mulrennan)
My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk. A roundabout off a national road, an industrial estate, a five-screen Cineplex, a century of pubs inside the square mile of the town’s limits. (Barrett, p.3).
We associate it with the generalised view of the stereotypical Irish rural town. Images of the mockumentary series ‘The Hardy Bucks’ come to mind when we observe the characters; a bunch of lazy, uninspiring lads who speak of only past glory and their younger years. The native readers’ real-life knowledge of what has happened to small towns because of the economic crash goes beyond the Irish context. Non-native readers notice there is something not quite right. In The Clancy Kid, Jimmy does not speak of any character working at all, a sign that there is not much work available.
Barrett’s own description of Glanbeigh labels it as “too familiar, finitely-horizoned and sort of moribund. The countryside, and rural towns are becoming even more paradoxical and incongruous places”. (Mulrennan). These type of people, like Barrett’s characters, have always been there, often deemed not inspiring enough to document. Economic uncertainty only exacerbates the struggles as it seeps slowly into becoming a relevant part of their lives.
Barrett was reimagining type of person who sticks around, what consolations they might find in a place like Glanbeigh. Jimmy fits the bill, able to describe Glanbeigh and the landscape in all its natural, albeit simple beauty. It is tranquil, peaceful and seems a million miles from any significant places, lost in a maze of rural villages, economic and social depravity and a lack of opportunity. “His stories are crowded with young men and women making a racket while going nowhere, with ambitions that don’t really stretch past scoring the next high or kissing the next girl. Through Barrett’s characters the reader gets an insight into the multi-layered rural Ireland, post-Celtic Tiger. Young Skins does not address the economic crash. However, it is acknowledged through recurring images of money.” (Mulrennan)
“They are literally and figuratively miles from where the power is, and the people in power. (Mulrennan). The community of Glanbeigh only remain concerned with what happens there, not interested in the happenings in Dublin or Europe.: Glanbeigh does not matter to the power makers, on a national or international level.
Val doesn’t care for traveling, college or seeing past the local scene. He is there and appears to have taken pride in his own self-confinement of his village an everyone around his as they excel and he stagnates.
Yet, remains a male-focused interpretation of the landscape.
Claire Keegan’s stories are also set in contemporary rural Ireland; her descriptions of locale and rendering of speech plainly show a picturesque version of Clonegal, bordering the counties of Wexford and Carlow. Admiration of well-kept farmland is like something foreign to her.
“The Kinsella’s fields are broad and level, divided in strips with electric fences she says I must not touch unless I want a shock. When the winds blows, sections of the longer grass bend over turning silver. On one strip of land, tall Friesian cows stand all around us.”
Foster appears to be set in the 1980s, in the middle of conflict in Northern Ireland between H-Block Prisoners on hunger strike and the backlash rising from their treatment.
In Foster, a child goes away from home to stay with an unknown couple, due to the struggles in her own family home. It is a story of “quiet optimism”. “The unnamed child narrator is iconic. She is born into a country where history’s legacy is no longer defeat but survival, where the potato crop does not always fail, and where adults sometimes have the wisdom to foster well, this child is at once herself alone and a fitting icon for a new Ireland.” (Jones)
However real the surrounding poverty and hardships may be, Keegan depicts adults failing miserably at ensuring the safety and due care of the most vulnerable societal group, children. With this, she becomes the responsibility of another family. “Keegan comments “It’s an examination of home and an examination of neglect; I don’t trust that home is necessarily where one finds one happiness”. (Lynch)
Social and economic hardship does not become the prevailing issue at any point in her foster home; perhaps with the landscape or the psyche of rural dwellers feeling similar to Glanbeigh. They are too far from decision making, only paying attention to what is around them. The slow rhythms of life are based on rural and agricultural activity of what seems an earlier Irish generation. The young narrator of the story, is fostered out to a home which has an abundance of unfamiliar items; “a freezer, a hoovering machine, and other mod cons yet, incongruously, they have to go to the well down the fields to fetch water for the tea. There are also shopping visits to the local town and the child is taken to a local wake during the course of the novel” (Hanley), indicating the foster family are more financially secure and have a general involvement in their community.
A question raised in Barrett’s and Keegan’s work is, how could focusing on a close-knit community be liberating for any writer?
While the author does touch on the urge to emigrate and there are recurring images of small spaces and of people being trapped; Young Skins explores the decision to stay, to live and exist in a small town. Val and Jimmy are stereotypical locals. They know everyone and have their noses (occasionally) in everyone’s business. Every small event is the talk of the town. While emigration is a vital part of the Irish psyche of this era in Barrett’s work, he has chosen not to write about emigrants, but about the young men that stayed. The significance is not just staying in Ireland but in rural Ireland. The trauma of the economic crash is there in the underlying structure of Glanbeigh.
“A burden for Irish people is this reputation of Ireland as virtuous, saintly, scholarly, family oriented, and all this stuff and reality, of course, is quite different.”Nothing has shattered the idealized depiction of Irish family life more than the revelations of far-ranging clerical, institutional, and familial abuse of children. The child has long been a notable presence in Irish fiction and memoir (Lynch), noting the obvious issues with the child’s anxieties of feeling unwanted in her own home.
The girls “thoughts range far: fears of being put to hard work, an awareness of the village where her father lost their heifer by gambling, her knowledge that her mother is not often in good humour, and her embarrassed recognition that she looks “wild as a tinker’s child with my hair all loose.”
The farmhouse kitchen is immaculate and welcoming (Lynch), with A Sense of community far greater with the foster family, become custom to rural irish life.
The Kinsella’s are good neighbours and people come for John’s help to dig a grave for a neighbour or help if a cow is having difficulty calving. He, in turn, is protected by the neighbours and they are sensitive to the couple’s loss of their only son and they admire their stoicism in dealing with their terrible tragedy. (Hanley)
With these insular communities comes secrecy. In the Moon, we observe Val’s conquests with the local females and keeping the details of his sexual encounters with Joan, Martina’s best friend, to himself. A secret is something one hides while the unspoken is something that doesn’t need to be told.
Foster deals with more harrowing secrets in the girls discovery that the clothes she wore had belonged to the son of her foster family, whom drowned in a well some years previously. Having been keen to be honest and have no place for secrecy, Edna is rvelad to be not as honst as readrs inintally gave her accreditation for.
Family and Relationships
“We all have things we won’t let go of”
- Jimmy cant let go of his love for martina
– The Kinsella’s memory of their son will never completely fade much like Jimmy and his unrequited love.
- Val cant get rid of the prospect of another fling with martina, the one that got away.
the emotional currents of family and community are rife in these stories. (Jones)
friendship is an antidote to the claustrophobia and isolation inherent for each character. Barrett once explained in an Irish Times podcast that “these friendships are a way for characters to find their own networks and familial units, as there are hardly any nuclear family set ups in the Young Skins.”“The examples of friendship and alternate family set-ups offer a possible way to console the self and a way to overcome the internal exile of young men in rural Ireland. Although problematic, it is possibly the only solution available”. (Mulrennan)
Indeed, the received version of the family has often had a baleful influence.
Jimmy tells us that Tug was “bred in a family warped by grief”. (Barrett, pg 32)
Families can be awful places, just as they can be glorious and loving.”.
Foster covers a few months in this damaged child’s immediate moment, with evocative intimations of a troubled past. Her namelessness becomes a metaphor for the realities of her short life lacking identity and recognition. The absence of a name underscores the loss of identity and dehumanizing that this girl has suffered. The second-person voice suggests a profound emotional detachment in the narrator. (Lynch)
Here there is room, and time to think” (Foster pg13).
The child enjoys what to her is a luxury: her first ever full bath, in a bathtub. Clearly, the child narrator has not been cared for attentively and well.
The girl notices the natural beauty around her, the comfort of the farmhouse where hard work is neither demanded nor suggested.
For the first time in her life the child does not have to be frightened at wetting her bed. She learns that there other sorts of houses than her own, places where neighbors come to visit, where one can watch the news, and people are part of a community.
- Coming of age part of the novel as she begins to find herself.
As Foster progresses, a positive and believable relationship develops between the child and her hosts. John Kinsella is an excellent, active guardian. He begins a ritual of having the child run daily to the post box; timing her, and as she becomes faster he praises her. It is John who announces that it is time for a trip into town to buy her new clothes, and who gives her something formerly unimaginable: a pound note to buy sweets, which she instinctively shares with him. It is John who charmingly nicknames her “Petal.” (Lynch)
She wishes that this was her home, she also sometimes feels a threatening sense of apprehension. Keegan has said that the image of “a well, a bucket and a girl’s reflection in the water” was the genesis of Foster. 13 A scene involving a well provides an early
signal that the child feels uneasy. Edna tries to teach her a lesson early on, when they go to the farm’s deep well for the first time. (Lynch)
- Child has feeling of displacemebt having mentqally established her new home, only to return and feel like an outsider. Lost in her own hometown.
“As soon as he takes it, I realise my father has never once held my hand, and some part of me wants Kinsella to let me go so I won’t have to feel this. It’s a hard feeling but as we walk along I begin to settle and let the difference between my life at home and the one I have here be” (Foster pg64).
But Keegan’s intricacies lie deeper, and nowhere does it become clearer than on this night of John and Petal’s walk. (Lynch)
- Immense feeling of a lack of love or affection in her own home.
“And that is when he puts his arms around me and gathers me into them as though I were his” (Foster 67).
The bonding is complete. Shortly thereafter, a letter finally arrives from Petal’s mother, requesting that she be brought home. Wanting to do something special for the Kinsella’s during the difficult pre-departure period, Petal runs to the well to fetch water, falls in, and gets chilled. The Kinsella’s keep her in bed for a weekend. As Edna nurses her, Petal reads, rests, and dreams of her mother stuck in a tree, suggesting that she intuits her mother is trapped in a hopeless situation.
Her own home is the antithesis of the Kinsella farm; cluttered and messy; there being no sink, a water bucket stands beneath the table.
The father is hurtful and without compassion.
Petal has never called her biological father “Daddy.” By crying “Daddy” here, she warns John Kinsella of the approach of the man with the stick, her birth father. “The female development sketched in Foster is thus again a hopeful one, as the girl’s stay with her foster parents has taught her about differences and choices, about responsibility and respect. (Lynch)
Keegan renders this in a paralyzing, and Joycean, ending that proclaims how disastrous the plight of the damaged child can be. (Lynch)
Keegan exposes destructive human realities that preclude any hope of sustaining “the phantom ideal”
- Parents have coped with loss very differently.
Mrs Kinsella is quite realistic about the girl: she knew that she would go back to her family at summer’s end and this explains why Mrs Kinsella didn’t let herself get as fond of this child as her husband did.
Despite the awful tragedy which has befallen the household both himself and his wife are coping as well as can be expected. There is a sharp juxtaposition between John Kinsella and Dan, the young girl’s father. He treats the young girl as if she was his own daughter.
‘You don’t ever have to say anything,’ he says. ‘Always remember that as a thing you need never do. Many’s the man lost much just because he missed a perfect opportunity to say nothing’ (p.64).
This is probably the most important sentence in the whole novel.
Another emotional moment for me was a scene at the beach where the girl was taken by her foster father. On the way back, he is trying to retrace his steps but he can’t find his own footprints, only the girl’s. It is obvious that he finds support in the young girl’s company so he says:
“You must have carried me there” (p.66). – feeling that he perhaps is motivated or given strength by the girl in dealing with his grief.
The young girl looks over at Aunt Edna ‘the woman that has minded me so well’ and silently promises that ‘I will never, ever tell’. Aunt Edna is crying with sadness and with relief.
The girl realises the near tragedy that could have occurred as a repeat of the Kinsella’s son.
Remember, she could have been driving up that lane to tell those people that their daughter had drowned. I think that she was living with that and also, of course, the incident had brought back the loss of her only son to drowning also. (Hanley)
The lack of physical contact between their parents is perceived by children in Keegan’s stories as a telling index of a loveless, or at the very best complicated, relationship. (Luppino)
Successfully implementing narrative where little to nothng is happening, yet fascinating
crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”(Lee)
- Indication that not much is happening. Language still intriguing and fascinationg.