Young Irelanders Edited by Dave Lordan | Anthology

By Margaret Madden,

This anthology, from New Island Books, is a showpiece of the finest young Irish literary writers of today. All twelve contributors have been recognised with some form of literary award, publication in a high caliber journal or have already been snapped up by a publishing house, and many have MA in literature, creative writing, drama or poetry. There can be no doubt that this is the cream of the crop, but does it appeal to everyone? Does it work? Delving into the book as a whole did not seem like a way to get a balanced overall feeling, so, as with most short story collections, each story deserved its own individual reading and I dipped in and out over a ten day period.

Beginning with Kevin Curran’s ‘Saving Tanya’, a teenagers take on modern-day Ireland and the effects of social media on peer pressure, it then moves through to Roisín O’Donnell’s ‘How to Learn Irish in Seventeen Steps’, which looks at a the determination of a Brazilian bride in her efforts to learn Gaeilge and fit into her husbands world, despite him not fitting completely in it himself. The stories show a fresh view of Éire and it becomes quickly obvious that this is a lovingly edited anthology. Presented in a no frills, basic but classical way, the stories are showcased in no particular order and with no one author getting pride of place. Each work speaks for itself and while I was not a fan of all twelve short stories, the complete package was inspiring.

There are a number of outstanding works in this collection, including the final one, Oisín Fagan’s ‘Subject’, which is written in the form of one continuous sentence, lending a Joycean feel to it. Eimear Ryan describes a session of strip poker, resulting in a priest losing his shirt, in ‘Retreat’ and Sydney Weinberg tells a tale of an obsession which finds momentum in ‘Omen in the Bon’e. However, for me there was one story which jumped right of the page, immense in its cleverness, and that was ‘The Remarks’ by Galway writer, Alan McMonagle. From the first lines “We had been living in the flat for almost a year. Three of us, Madigan, Eric and me. Friends by mistake, and poor to boot” and for every single line that followed thereafter, I was enthralled. It was like stepping back in time, to the day I first read Roddy Doyle, way back when. Mind blowing. Using character driven narrative, with nuggets of their insights and quirky existence in day to day Irish life, the author gets it just right. “Tears are the ultimate form of communication”, says Mary P, when asked why her uncles Poteen makes the boys cry everytime they drink it…

In the fairness of balance, I must note that there were some stories that did not appeal to me. Some writers seemed determined to use vocabulary as a way of showing off their award-winning ability and at times this can result in a canon-like pretentiousness. While the standard of this anthology is well above average, I would fear that some stories are missing the point. This is about Young Irelanders, a new wave of young and vibrant writing, not about cramming a thesaurus into two or three thousand words. The amazing, and successful contemporary Irish writers who have their words recently published and admired, worldwide, like Donal Ryan, Anne Enright, Sarah Baume and Nuala Ní Chonchúir, do not feel the need to over-write. They use their talent to write what readers want. The simplicity and success of Colm Tóbín and Sebastian Barry’s novels should be an indicator of how contemporary writing can appeal to the mainstream market. Beautiful prose, a clever narrative and the ability to draw a reader into their fictional worlds. The majority of this collection is a wonderful testament to the raw talent that exists on our small Ireland. I have no doubt that some of these writers will become well known names, and hopefully not just in the area of academia or literary circles. They deserve to have their voices heard…

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