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Full of Grace by Orla McAlinden

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
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‘In the seconds before the visitor pulls a balaclava over his five o’ clock shadow you already know he is bad news. A solitary figure slouching up the long farm path, no friendly wave, no shouted greeting. Skin-tight denim – drainpipes, your father would have called them. No dungarees, no boiler suit. You know this is not the unrecognised son of a neighbour come to borrow a half pound of staples for a barbed wire fence.
Just before his face swims into focus, he pauses and pulls on the mask, taking all your attention, and you gasp in amazement as two other wraiths materialise from the shadows behind you.
Strangers on your land, in your yard. How strange are they? Let’s find out…‘
 – The VisitFull of Grace

Full of Grace is the latest release from Orla McAlinden and is another powerful collection of interwoven stories, following on from Orla’s 2016 publication, The Accidental Wife. Just recently published with Red Stag Mentor, Full of Grace is described as a book that ‘turns an unsentimental eye and prize-winning prose onto everything from Bloody Sunday to Brexit and beyond.’

In my review of The Accidental Wife I mentioned that there was something almost voyeuristic in the manner Orla describes the lives of these ordinary folk who inhabit her stories and Full of Grace evoked many similar feelings. Orla McAlinden returns to some characters from The Accidental Wife but she also introduces new ones. There is a pureness to the prose, a sense of experience that shines through every story. Containing 21 stories in total, this collection reads like a novel in many ways, as the lives of all the characters are continuously interconnected in some manner.

I have quoted above a piece from The Visit, a story that won the prestigious 2018 Bord Gais Irish Book Award. This is a story that highlights the pure love that a parent has for his child, the extreme lengths we will go to in order to protect them from the harshness and dangers of the world we live in.

‘He takes your hand and a tear falls down his cheek….you have survived; you are here with him. He need not know about, nor fear, the shadows of the men in the masks. Nothing else matters’

Aloysius O’ Donovan is a father, a farmer, a man who believes in the right thing to do. He, along with the many others that populate these stories, open the eyes of the reader to the reality of life for those who lived through the turbulence of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Orla McAlinden is from Armagh and her writing is heavily influenced by the history and language of the land that she grew up in.

‘I write about the North almost entirely because I am in love with the rural dialect. When I was a child I spent a lot of time with men, farmers mainly, and they made absolutely no allowances for my tender years! I was submerged in a vibrant, rich dialect that probably hadn’t changed much for several hundred years.’ – Orla McAlinden

When I had finished reading Full of Grace, I realised that I had been quoting sections from many of the stories to my OH. There was just so much between the pages. An incredibly woven collection of stories. So very authentic, I really felt that I was there with the characters watching their lives shift & change over the years.

Among the 21 stories, there are a few that really stood out to me and really had an impact on my reading experience, but overall Full of Grace is a superb collection. The stories are all filled with love, lies, fear, deceit, humour and much much more.

Reading Full of Grace is a remarkable experience. As John McKenna stated, Orla McAlinden brings ‘storytelling to life’, a challenge faced by many a writer I would think.

Full of Grace is an outstanding read, an accomplished short story collection for every bookshelf.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.