‘The Long Gaze Back.’ An Anthology of Irish Women Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson.


The Long Gaze Back

I have spent the last few years reading more Irish female writers, and constantly discovering new ones, and I am in awe of their talent.  Lisa McInerney’s ‘The Glorious Heresies’ was the best book I read all year.  I have been meaning to read this anthology since it was published last year.  I finally got around to it this month.  It is a gift.

There are thirty short stories in total, the stories range in time period from the 1800s to the present day.  The subjects and styles are diverse, and I can honestly say that there wasn’t one story in the collection that I didn’t enjoy.   Every story was full of emotion, style and substance.

I kept changing my mind as to which was my favourite.  They made me laugh, cry and contemplate many aspects of life – travel, a sense of place, a sense of identity, first loves, love lost….the themes are plentiful in these wonderfully woven tales.

The book begins with two Irish women writers born in the 18th Century, Maria Edgeworth and Charlotte Riddell, and it was lovely to be able to read a short synopsis about them, listed on the opposite page of each new story.   My favourite of this era, or just slightly later, was from Somerville and Ross, whom I knew well from the Irish R.M television series.  The story was a delight, as I was transported to an Ireland of the very distant past, where the language is as sharp as the humour.

Ireland has such a wealth of literary talent from women writers, and this book is a wonderful way to get acquainted or reacquainted with them.  The list of talent is just endless, with writers such as Kate O’Brien, Norah Hoult, and two eerie atmospheric stories from Elizabeth Bowen and Mary Lavin.

I was introduced to writers I had never heard of, and spent a lot of time googling them and bookmarking other works by them I would like to read.   In fact, my favourite story in the collection was by a writer I had never heard of – Roisín O’Donnell.  A writer born in Sheffield with family roots in County Derry.  She wrote a story called ‘Infinite Landscapes’ about a young half Irish, half Nigerian girl called Simidele, whose grandmother believes she is ‘abiku,’ which means that she is cursed – a child of the spirits.  The story goes on to tell how the young Simi displays unusual behaviour, and how she navigates he way through life, having to deal with this extraordinary aspect of her personality.  There is a wonderful diary entry from Simi when she is about 8:

“On Saturday we went to the beech and I said Dadddy can the spirits com in the car and daddy said no they fucking can’t and then the spirits got angree and played in daddy’s enjin and then daddy’s enjin wouldn’t start.”

The story tells of Simi’s life in the most beautiful lyrical language.  The story is full of humour and wisdom, and it is a wonderful story about identity and the idiosyncrasies on the blending of two cultures.   As I was born in Zambia, this story appealed to me, and reminded me of the wonderful superstitions that can be found in Africa.

The talent of Irish women writers in this collection is inspiring and intimidating in equal measure.  The stories are uniquely wonderful.   What is even more exciting is that there is another volume to look forward to, ‘The Glass Shore,’ by women writers from the North of Ireland.  Being from Belfast myself, I have asked Santa for this one and hope to spend my Christmas holidays enjoying it.

This book would make a perfect gift.   It is an ideal read for those who travel a lot, perfect for dipping in and out of at leisure.   I highly recommend it.  Classy stuff.


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