On joining #readingirelandmonth21

Yesterday morning, when I settled down to write this post, I was still juggling ideas about content. As always, when faced with an opportunity to prevaricate, I opted to read. Checking other people’s posts, I decided, would help me decide.

I abandoned all as soon as I saw that Cathy, at 746 Books, had nominated March as Reading Ireland Month. This was it.

The challenge was announced in January. In joining at the last minute, I’m clinging to the coat-tails of those bloggers who have already signed up to this party – like an annoying little sister, perhaps.

To make that situation worse, I’m not planning to stick to the rules (do little sisters ever understand rules in the same way as their siblings?). Like any experienced gatecrasher, I’m cherry-picking the segments that suit me. Cathy’s nicely arranged schedule provides inspiration. .

1st – 7th March – Contemporary Irish Novels. If contemporary means read within a year or two of publication, then I’ll certainly need to side step this one. I can’t remember the last novel of any nationality that I read close to its date of publishing.

On the other hand, if I take ‘Contemporary‘ from the challenge for this week, and ‘Short Story‘ from the third week (15th – 21st March – Irish Short Story Collections), I can talk about Jan Carson’s, ‘In The Car With The Rain Coming Down’. It was a memorable high-point in my short-story-reading last year that I’m glad of an excuse to revisit.

Carson is from Northern Ireland. She’s written a novel, flash fiction and short stories. This one was broadcast as part of the shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award last year, and I was hooked, from the first sentence.

There’s a stand-off in the front yard.

That is a line to envy. At first glance, its effortless.

If, however, we’re thinking about that standard writing advice of ‘setting your reader a question that must be answered’, it provides multiples: Who? Why? Where? What next? Somehow, it also sets a ‘wild-west’ flavour to the scene.

Carson doesn’t exactly explain in the next few sentences, she expands the questions:

No significant progress can be made until the men decide who’s driving. It’s the same every time we go anywhere together.

There are six cars in the yard. To say they’ve been parked would be giving the drivers too much credit. They look as if they’ve been dropped from a great height and have come to rest at outlandish angles, sniffing each other’s bumpers like a pack of frisky dogs. The men are debating which cars will be required today. 

Part of what I like is our narrator’s vocabulary. Look at that second sentence. The word that jumps out to me is ‘significant‘. It’s as if the narrator is embedding doubts into the situation: here, perhaps, progress is always in question.

Then there are the distinctive similes. I’d never have thought of cars being ‘dropped’, or of relating them to frisky dogs. I feel a little smile beginning to form. I’m still not sure whether I’m entering a comedy, but the narrator is clearly able to see humour, so I’m ready, if that’s where we’re going.

Speaking of journeys, sometimes stories take place in a kind of geographical ‘anywhere’. They describe events that are universal, and could apply to any of us.

These cars are in Northern Ireland. Their goal is a local landmark, and the dynamics of the characters belong in their geographical location.

This does not mean that all of the situation is unique to the geography. But perhaps it says that these particular characters have formed and are reflecting the experience of growing up and living in their setting. The voice of the narrator, Victoria, is deliberately, though not heavily, accented. ‘They’ve ruled out Matty’s wee Nova.’ It’s in occasional turns of phrase.

Even before she says, ‘Sure‘, voice is part of the context of this story:

The Escort’s out too. It’s filthy with dog hair. William, my father-in-law, keeps it for his collies. He’s never once thought of cleaning it out. Sure, what would be the point? 

‘What would be the point?’ is a telling question. It is, perhaps, at the heart of this story, where the tensions and loyalties of family life are explored.

In these travel-less days, perhaps one way to experience other cultures is to embed ourselves in their literature.

“Is it a Protestant thing? Clodagh asks, having your picnic in the car, because it’s not something my folks do.”

The things families do are explored with a surprising amount of depth in this journey that does not cover many road miles.