It’s a busy time of year for saints.
Valentine’s Day was last month, St. David’s Day was at the start of this month, and now St. Patrick’s Day is here. You might not be Irish or of Irish descent, but it’s easy to get swept up in the celebrations. The spirit of St. Patrick’s Day is infectious.
Ireland is responsible for many great things that have changed the way we do things- Guinness, color photography, the modern tractor and whiskey distillation- but it’s also the home of some of the world’s greatest writers and poets. If you’re looking for a short story collection to read, the Emerald Isle has some of the finest.
So, here are three short story collections you should read by Irish writers:
Dubliners by James Joyce
Dubliners was the first short story collection I read, and it’s the first that comes to mind whenever I think about short stories. I was sixteen before I realized that the form existed, which was when Dubliners was plonked in front of me in class. Unlike most of the texts I studied, I actually liked Dubliners. In the collection, Dublin’s inhabitants are suffering from paralysis; unable to break free of their lives, they often tighten the rope around themselves.
Each story has something to offer the reader and the writer. Some are hardly more than a few pages long, yet Joyce’s carefully selected words convey so much. Ordinary lives are documented in vivid detail. I have a copy, highlighted and annotated to within an inch of its life that proves it.
Saints & Sinners by Edna O’Brien
Edna O’Brien has written plays, poems, novels, and memoirs, but she is also an expert at the short story form. In Saints & Sinners, love takes many forms and disappointment is often intrinsically linked with it. There are autobiographical elements to some of the stories, echoes of her uneasy relationship with her mother and her search for belonging. Many of the characters, like Rafferty in Shovel Kings, are torn between two places, and because of this feel out of place in both. The stories move across the Atlantic, but there is a strong sense of Irish tradition.
Young Skins by Colin Barrett
Set in the fictional Irish town of Glanbeigh, Barrett’s debut collection creates a strong sense of place and cultural identity. Like Joyce, Barrett explores the paralysis that comes from living in the same place your whole life. In the seven stories in Young Skins are characters who have barely ventured further than the borders of their county. The younger residents of the town are restless and bored, but leaving is never an option. It’s this mentality that backs them into a corner, and often leaves them feeling they have no choice.