Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review:The Shelter of Neighbours-Eilis Ni Dhuibhne

Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Fellow in creative writing at UCD, has written more than twenty books, received numerous awards and is considered one of Ireland's most important short story writers. Her new book The Shelter of Neighbours is a collection of fourteen short stories and the title draws on an Irish proverb "people live in one another's shelter or shadow." The beautiful and slightly haunting watercolour cover design shows a bare winter tree and it's shadow. With praise on the back cover from Edna O'Brien that "her prose shimmers like poetry" we know that we are in for a treat.
The titles of the stories are diverse, from the literary and Joycean sounding 'The Yeats',  'Illumination' and 'A Literary Lunch' to the altogether more ordinary sounding 'Bikes I Have Lost' and 'The Shortcut Through Ikea.'
And it is the normalness of her writing that is the charm. The natural voice discussing the weather, the traffic, the sick cat, "seven hundred euros later and now they should consider putting her down. Shouldn't the vet have mentioned that before?",to the creative writing teacher with writers block - surely a true case of the teacher taking her own advice about writing about what you know.

Deconstructing the pretensions of restaurant menus in 'Literary Lunch', where truffles are listed under sausage and mash, she identifies that the restaurant is saying "we can cook and we are ironic as well, it proclaims, put your elbows on the table, have a good time." Ni Dhuibhne  just seems to have her finger on the pulse, as it were, of everyday life and our inner thoughts. Her humour brings a quiet giggle as contemporary restaurants, well known places and Dublin characters are described. "Oh yes!" you keep saying to yourself as you read each story, "you're so right!"
Literary themes abound; working with writer's block, unsuccessful writers, writers retreats, a soon-to-be literature student. The stories include those with unexpected turns, unexpected discoveries (houses in the woods) and teenage romance.
Short stories are a category out there on their own. They can start mid event and end inconclusively. They can have a certain enigma about them which leaves the reader uncertain of their meaning, thinking about them again or almost being left to finish them themselves. One of the masters of the short story for me was Raymond Carver, evoking small town America and whose stories you can return to again and again. Eilis Ni Dhuibhne certainly should be considered high up there in the sometimes difficult to master short story category. She has a natural voice that flows off the page and the added appeal of the familiarity of place from an Irish writer adds an extra level of interest.
A book that will bring pleasure to all types of readers, the young and the old, the seasoned short-story readers and for those new to the genre, it is also a book to treasure for it's no nonsense insight beyond the sometime pretensions of Irish life.

Published by The Blackstaff Press

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