St Patrick’s day has come and gone and I haven’t yet reviewed an Irish short story as I had planned.
The story I read this week is “Irish Revel” by Edna O’Brien. O’Brien was born in 1930 in county Clare. Books were not well viewed in her family, especially if read by girls. Although O’Brien trained as a pharmacist, she pursued her dream and became a writer. O’Brien went against the path prescribed by her family and has often been banned in Ireland. Since her first publication in 1960, O’Brien has become a respected and well-established writer.
“Irish Revel” was originally published in 1969 in her first short story collection, The Love Object. The story is that of Mary, 17, a country girl who lives up in the mountain. For the first time, Mary is allowed to go to a party. There, she is hoping to meet John Roland, a married English painter who stayed with her family two summers before and with whom she became enamoured. However, once she arrives at the party, Mary is disillusioned as she is treated as barely more than a maid and is made fun of by the town girls. As the small party gets going, the men there get increasingly drunk and boisterous. Soon, Mary’s hopes and wishes are shattered and she realises she would have been better staying at home.
This story is typically Irish in its themes, but also evokes universal feelings of exclusion and alienation. I found it painful: I felt for Mary, whose dreams of love and freedom are destroyed. Mary has to face the reality of her world and maybe her illusions were preferable to that.
O’Brien’s story reminds me of Joyce’s Dubliners with its painful epiphany and its description of Irish society as small-minded and driven by drink. From what I have read about O’Brien’s life, it is reflective of the atmosphere in which she grew up, a suffocating atmosphere in which day-dreaming was the only means of escapism.
If you would like to read about more Irish short stories, visit The Reading Life where Mel U is holding an Irish Short Story Week.