My qualifications for reviewing modern Irish literature are limited to:
- I live in Ireland, and,
- I like books
With that disclaimer...
The Over the Edge Showcase was, for me, a highlight of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature. The event was billed as giving “a platform to emerging poets and fiction writers,” which I had mentally translated to mean “open-mic amateur night.” I was wrong. REALLY wrong.
The crowd which gathered in the Town Hall Theatre Thursday afternoon heard four authors who, while not “established” writers, were already very accomplished. More importantly, they were very good.
Two authors in particular left me wanting more. Eimear Ryan read from her short story “The Recital,” about a talented young pianist who works as a bar maid. The bio page on Ryan’s Word Press site says she is nine-to-fiving at Dubray bookstore while she works on her novel, so it seems she didn’t need to look far afield for inspiration. I enjoyed the authentic dialect and circumstances of her very Irish characters, as well as the clever phrases that sent waves of giggles through the theater. “The Recital” will be featured in a collection of new Irish short stories: Town and Country, edited by Kevin Barry, available in June, which Ryan unapologetically plugged ... twice. Atta girl!
Equally impressive was the offering by Hugo Kelly. By day, Kelly is the Information Librarian at the local university, the National University of Ireland, Galway. Ho-hum. But by night, apparently, he becomes the worst kept literary secret in Galway. His short story, “There It Is,” set in a dystopian prison cell, won him this year’s Cúirt New Writing Prize. In this story, Kelly describes the emotional turmoil of a prisoner with such clarity, that I was tempted to ask him a highly inappropriate question afterward: “Have you ever been incarcerated?” I didn’t ask, by the way; but I did tell him that I loved the story. Another of Kelly’s works was featured in the collection 'Galway Stories.' I bought the book at their launch the next day, which you can read about here.
At this point in their careers, these authors have doubtless received more rejection letters than fan mail, and I admire the guts it takes to stand on that stage as writer, director, and performer in the subtle drama of a live reading. Honestly, I felt a bit out of my element around living authors. I just prefer the safe bet of a classic over a wade through the homogenous morass of empty introspection, soft porn, and dysfunctional relationship melodramas that dominate contemporary fiction. I left this event feeling that I’ve been a bit lazy, and excited about extending some shelf space to a new crop of writers. Maith thú, Over the Edge!
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Great review, Kelly.
Lovely and heartfelt and eloquent, particularly in its earnestness, Kelly. I am looking forward to reading more from you. In fact, I find myself wondering if you might be reading at Cúirt next year.
Go raibh maith agaibh!
(Thanks, you guys!)