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As a third writer representing Ontario, I chose Jane Urquhart, whom I saw reading a few weeks ago. She was born in 1949 in Ontario, where she still lives. At the reading, I asked Urquhart to discuss her relationship with the short story. She explained that she had been writing poetry but that her poems were getting increasingly narrative and she consequently experimented with the short story, although she noted that she never excelled in this genre and was more suited for the novel. Storm Glass is consequently her only collection of short stories. It was first published in 1987.
Overall, I find the prose in the three stories I read very poetic. The stories are more focused on language than on plot. Although they are agreeable to read, they are, perhaps, less accessible than other stories. Consequently, they might at first appear as unsatisfying as stories. However, I think that they evoke successfully the feelings of their characters and create an atmosphere that will stay with the reader.
“The Death of Robert Browning” is the opening story in the collection and imagines what Robert Browning did the day of his death. We enter the consciousness of Browning and share his dreams and thoughts as he is about to die. This idea was in fact reused for the frame narrative of her novel The Whirlpool. I indeed felt that it was more an exercise in style than a short story. It is pleasant to read, but did not stay with me for any length of time.
“John’s Cottage”, which is the second story in this collection, is my favourite of the three stories I have read so far. The story is told in the first person by a woman who moves to Northern England in order to escape the affair she has with John, her married lover. She tells us about her relationship with him and how she is always followed by his shadow. Ironically, the house in which she moves in is called “John’s cottage”. We then see how the narrator replaces John’s shadow with another idea: the idea she makes of the other John, who lived in the cottage before. There is very little difference between the two John despite the fact that one is only based on the stories she has heard rather than on a real relationship. However, it seems that the second John gives her more satisfaction than the actual John. Although I found it difficult to get into this story, I ended up enjoying it immensely. It is quirky enough to appeal to me and I like its atmosphere of weirdness, while still dealing with feelings any of us might have encountered.
“Storm Glass” is the closing story of the collection and, like the first story, is concerned with someone facing death. The character on whom the story focuses, only referred to as “she”, remembers her past while lying in bed looking at the lake that is part of so many of her memories. In particular, she recalls that summer when her children were looking for pieces of glass eroded by the water on the shore. The story contrasts her immobility with the passage of time and subtly evokes her relationship with her husband who has become distant since she has been ill. This story is in a way painful but evokes the imminence of death beautifully.
Short Story Monday is held by John at The Book Mine Set.
As I have said, I have been busy lately. Last week, I was lucky to be invited to a day seminar at the Canadian embassy in Dublin. For me, it was the occasion to have the pleasure to meet other Irish scholars who share the same interest as mine. We were spoiled with this seminar. Not only were we offered food and drinks in abundance, but also some very interesting papers and a reading by Jane Urquhart.
There was first a reading by Patrick O’Connor, an Irish scholar and poet with a passion for Canada. He read from his latest collection, Behold the Enchanted Country. Each poem evokes a certain place in Canada and were actually inspired by his travels across Canada. As he noted, it is at once a travel guide and a collection of poetry.
Then, André Lapierre from the University of Ottawa offered a talk on Canadian Aboriginal toponomy. He explained the project in which he is involved to get the name of some places changed to their Aboriginal name, because, as he noted, if the language disappear we will still have a way of remembering it through these topographical names. He explored the problems involved in this process and how they manage to resolve them by negotiating with the natives. For instance, one of them was the length of the name, so they agreed that it could be divided to form words more easily pronounced by the non-natives It was a lively and accessible talk, which I really enjoyed.
A few representatives from the Association of Canadian Studies in Ireland also discussed the state of Canadian studies at home and abroad. They especially noted the decline of Canadian studies in Canada, but pointed out that they were thriving abroad. In Ireland, it seems that Canadian studies have survived by being integrated to other programmes.
Finally, Jane Urquhart read from one of his novels, A Map of Glass, in which an Irish man emigrates to Canada. The reading was followed by a series of question to which Urquhart gave considered and detailed answers. I was a pleasure to listen to her witty and humourous comments.
She was asked about her relationship with the short story as she has published a collection, Storm Glass. She explained how when she began writing, she was mostly writing piles and piles of poems, which were growing into narratives. Her short stories were part of this experimentation with writing and she then discovered that she was destined to write novels. She thus does not consider herself as a good short story writer and notes that most of her stories have later evolved into novels.
She was asked about her position on e-publishing and said that she was not drawn to it. Moreover, she noted that it was a decision beyond her control and in the hands of her publishers.
When asked what is essential to write a novel, she answered that “unstructured time” is essential because it is that time in which you are able to think about your novel.
She also argued that it is important to ignore the voices after having written the first book and to continue writing. By that, she meant especially the criticism that might impact on your writing.
Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable afternoon, well worth the trip to Dublin.