A long-haired woman moves into the priest’s house and sets fire to his furniture. That Christmas, the electricity goes out. A forester mortgages his land and goes off to a seaside town looking for a wife. He finds a woman eating alone in the hotel. A farmer wakes half-naked and realises the money is almost gone. And in the title story, a priest waits on the altar for a bride and battles, all that wedding day, with his memories of a love affair. In her long-awaited second collection, Claire Keegan observes an Ireland wrestling with its past.
A lecturer once told me novels are the product of a stable, settled society, while short stories are often the product of a society in flux as their structure better enables a writer to respond to societal shifts than a novel. Perhaps this in part explains the role of the short story in Irish literature. Or perhaps it is merely our strong oral tradition out of which all forms of Irish literature emerge. Either way Ireland has a long tradition in the short story, in which Claire Keegan represents part of the latest generation.
Walk the Blue Fields, is Claire Keegan’s second collection of short stories. The collection deals with common themes of Irish literature – emigration, religion, acceptance of the past, and identity all set against a rural backdrop. Interestingly other than Joyce’s Dubliner’s, I can’t think of single collection of Irish short stories which are set in an urban environment.
There is a timeless quality to the stories, presenting a world which is at once both unchanging from generation to generation and beginning to leave the vestiges of the past behind. I can’t tell when the stories are meant to be set, beyond the later half of the 20th century..at a guess I would say the 80’s and 90’s. The writing has a lyrical quality so typical of Irish literature, and in particular is reminiscent of McGahern to whom one of the stories pays homage.
I didn’t love this collection. There was no story to which I really connected (a fact which is reflected in my rating). However I can recognise the skill with which Keegan has crafted her stories. For anyone looking for an Irish short story collection, this collection or indeed any of Keegan’s collections, would be a good place to start.