#54. Bad Day in Blackrock (Kevin Power)

Book: Bad Day in Blackrock, by Kevin Power

Genre and Year of Publication: “Fiction” based on a real-life unlawful killing; 2008

Where I got it: Chapters second-hand book store

Length: 235 pages

Briefly: In August 2000, 18-year-old Brian Murphy was kicked to death in an alcohol-fired brawl outside a Dublin nightclub.  Four young men, all with affluent backgrounds, were subsequently tried for his killing (read more here).  This book alleges to be a work of fiction based on this incident, exploring the reasons why such a situation came about and why the Irish justice system ultimately failed the victim’s family.

Comments: This book infuriated me.  It is not fiction, and the disclaimer at the beginning that “all of the characters… are fictional, and are not intended to represent actual persons, living or dead” is an utter LIE.  Of course Conor Harris represents Brian Murphy.  Of course Richard Culhane, Barry Fox and Stephen O’Brien represent Dermot Laide, Desmond Ryan and Sean Mackey.  Of course “Brookfield” represents Blackrock College. Why lie about it?

The book explores the south County Dublin private-school*, rugby-playing subculture which definitely exists, and which produced the situation that led to Brian Murphy’s death.  It is definitely worth exploring.  But please, do it as a genuine work of research, of non-fiction, of scholarship, with standards of decency and with respect for the people and families involved.

Kevin Power can write.  Kevin Power understands the dynamics of young adults in a certain section of contemporary Irish society.  What a pity he chose to use his skills in this way.

(* In Ireland, “private school” means what the English call a “public school” – which is, of course, a private school.)

Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge for the category “Contemporary”; Reading Round Ireland (for Dublin).

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Short Story #41. Faeries of the Nile (Mansoura Ez-Eldin)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the king of spades.

Story: Faeries of the Nile, by Mansoura Ez-Eldin [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story] (translated from the Arabic by Raphael Cohen)

Comments: Mansoura Ez-Eldin is an Egyptian writer and journalist.  In this story she explores the responses of a woman trapped in a very limited situation: physical poverty, a betraying and abusive husband, the death of their only son.  The “river faeries” sing to the woman, entrance her, seduce her, and she succumbs…  One critic says that it is a story about sexual repression, but I think that it points to much more than just sexual desire.  It is about the woman’s desire for freedom, for self-determination, for a voice.  The story itself gives the woman, Zeenat, no voice: it is told from the points of view of an omniscient narrator, and of the husband.

There are some great phrases: “my wife cried a lot, at her mother’s direction”; “She obeys me as if castigating me with obedience”.

The Guardian’s reviewer found the story “incredibly dated”, and Think Africa Press said it “show[s] a little too strongly the influence of past generations and styles… Faeries of the Nile is a story in the tradition of tiresome magical realism”.  But I agree more with the Goodreads reviewer who calls it “a great piece of imaginative literature” and other more positive reviews.  I would be happy to read more by this author.

Short Story #40. Desirée’s Baby (Kate Chopin)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the queen of hearts.

Story: Desirée’s Baby, by Kate Chopin [available online here]

Comments: Oh wow. This was my first encounter with Kate Chopin, and now I am anxious to read more.  Set in Louisiana in the late nineteenth century, it is a powerful story about racism and prejudice.  There is no need for the author to comment, the story speaks for itself.  Character is built up quickly by this skilful writer – the person of Desirée’s mother, for instance, comes through strongly, though she is given only a few lines.  Prejudice is still widespread in society – we are all, in some way, Armand Aubigny.   And many of us are, in some way, also Desirée.

The ending reminds me of the conclusion of John B. Keane’s play Sive, in which the tragic heroine leaves her home and heads towards the swampy bog.

I’m so glad I’ve encountered this story and this author.

Short Story #39. Street of the House of Wonders (Rachida el-Charni)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the ten of diamonds.

Story: Street of the House of Wonders, by Rachida el-Charni [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story]

Comments: The story-line here is fairly simple: a woman’s necklace is grabbed by a thief on the street; she is disillusioned by the bystanders’ response – they don’t help her, refuse to get involved.  It’s a story-line open to many possibilities.  To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed – I would expect more from a story at this level (i.e. included in such an anthology).  The description of the woman fighting the thief really wasn’t really adrenalin-filled.  I found myself wondering “how did he pinch her while holding a knife in one hand and the necklace in the other?”  or “would she really be whispering under her breath, rather than screaming aloud?”  The translation (from Arabic – el-Charni is Tunisian) seemed a bit literal in places, not really lively English.  And the final paragraph is too blatant in its expression of the victim’s opinion of the crowd; something more subtle might have been more effective.

 

Short Story #38. The Veldt (Ray Bradbury)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the nine of hearts.

Story: The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury (available online here)

Comments: A masterly story from a master story-teller.  It’s hard to believe it was written over 50 years ago, in 1950.  It’s about the role of technology, supposed to make our life easier and smoother, being used for evil in the wrong hands.  And those hands are not found in some totalitarian state, but in our own offspring, who use the technology against us… A wonderful read.

Short Story #37. The Mouse (Saki)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the king of hearts.

Story: The Mouse, by Saki (available here)

Comments: This is a very short (1,520 words) and funny story by one of the classic masters of the genre.  A mouse gets trapped in the clothing of a gentleman just before he boards a train – how does he divest himself of it when a lady occupies the same carriage?  The twist comes in the last line.

Take a few minutes to read it.

#53. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Anita Loos)

Book: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos

Genre and Year of Publication: Vintage chick-lit, 1925

Where I got it: Chapters second-hand book store

Length: 156 pages

Briefly, it’s the book behind the Marilyn Monroe movie of the same name; a satirical send-up of the “flappers” culture of the 1920s.

Comments: Written in a diary style, complete with grammar and spelling mistakes, this could be seen as a precursor of certain types of contemporary chic-lit, such as Sophie Kinsella’s “I Love Shopping” books.  It may have been ground-breaking in its day.  Lorelei is an airheaded diamond-seeking user of men – men who seem to be totally happy to be so used.  I found it mildly amusing.

ChallengesBack to the Classics challenge for the category “A 20th century classic”