Room Little Darker – June Caldwell

There was a moment last week when I was reading on the bus and I angled the pages away so that the person beside me wouldn’t accidentally cast their eye over them and move seats in outrage. The book in question was June Caldwell’s collection of short stories Room Little Darker and the story was ‘Leitrim Flip’. It’s about a couple who are into kink and so they meet with a like-minded couple to enjoy swinging and S&M. However the tables are turned when the second couple imprison the first and force them to behave like pet dogs. It sounds creepy and bizarre and pretty close to the edge, and it’s all of those things, but it’s also very very funny.

Caldwell takes on many subjects in the eleven stories included in the collection. ‘The Glens of Antrim’ is more S&M, with salty descriptions of kinky sex amongst virtual strangers. ‘Imp of the Perverse’ depicts how a woman unravels as a result of rejection by her manipulative lecturer: ‘Cheek of that philistine citing my behaviour as inappropriate when he uses the course as fanny fodder all the time and no one blinks an ethical eyelid!’

‘SOMAT’, previously included in Sinead Gleeson’s Long Gaze Back anthology, is one of the strongest and most emotionally affecting of the stories. It is told from the point of view of a foetus and was partly inspired by the death of Marlise Muñoz as well as our own Eighth Amendment.

Caldwell has a way with language, a style of writing completely unlike any other Irish female writer I’ve read. It’s acerbic, confrontational, hilarious, very sexual but not in a coy or titillating way, and it’s filled to the brim with idiosyncratic vivid descriptions: a loved one’s mouth with a ‘seagull-in-flight upper lip’, a laugh ‘like he’d swallowed an antique television full of static’, an old man described as a ‘sack of crumpled grey maudlin’.

Room Little Darker is Caldwell’s first book. She worked as a journalist for many years and is a prize-winning short story writer with a raft of achievements to her name. She’s just signed up with Rogers Coleridge and White, one of the biggest agencies in London, so I’m sure Room Little Darker will be picked up for international publication and will mark the start of a long and brilliant career.

Christmas Book Ideas

Many of you may be panicking that there’s only a few shopping days left, but you can always head into your local bookshop and buy everyone you know a perfect present in the form of reading material. At least that’s my philosophy. I have done a few of these gift guides before in 2012, and 2010, and 2009.  You may find ideas there but here are some new ones just in case.

For the little ones

I’ve become an aunt in the last few years and so I have been discovering children’s books all over again. I love Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist, both of which provide a nice antidote to the princessy ‘happily ever after’ nonsense. I also loved The Fox and the Star, a magical book by Coralie Bickford-Smith. And if you want something Irish, A Dublin Fairytale by Nicola Colton features well-known landmarks in gorgeous illustration.

For the teenager

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill has received a huge amount of press since it was published in 2015. It even generated a documentary on sexual consent presented by Louise herself and broadcast this year on RTE. It’s a book that teenagers of all sexes need to read.

For the bookworm

I wholeheartedly recommend Sinead Gleeson’s The Glass Shore which I reviewed on the blog a while ago. I also love The Winter Papers, a beautifully produced anthology of the arts in Ireland, volume two of which was published in October this year. Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones has won the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize and the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year 2016 and has been lauded by everyone I know who has read it (unfortunately I have yet to get to it, but it’s on my list).

For the music lover

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run gives a real insight into the icon including his bouts with depression and the catharsis he finds in his legendary live performances. Leonard Cohen’s volumes of poetry are amazing reading (I have this one) and a great gift for a grieving fan. And Sylvia Patterson’s I’m Not With The Band is a bawdy no-holds-barred memoir from a music journalist who started her career with Smash Hits.

For the oenophile

Hugh Johnson’s On Wine: Good Bits from 55 Years of Scribbling is a compilation from the foremost writer on the subject, and A Hedonist in the Cellar by Jay McInerney is another great read from one of America’s most well-known novelists.

For the creative person

Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech in 2012 for The University of the Arts in Philadelphia was published in 2014 as a cute collectible hardback entitled Make Good Art. I was given a copy of it by my sister for my birthday a few years ago and I’d recommend it as a stocking-filler for any artist who needs a little affirmation.

And finally…

If you need any other recommendations, please feel free to ask in the comments. (I offered a recommendation service before and many people emailed me so if you’d rather do that my email address is here.)  For any subject other than sport, I am at your service!

The Glass Shore – Sinéad Gleeson

image.jpg
Sinead Gleeson. Photo by Paul McVeigh

A few weeks ago I attended the launch of The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland, a new anthology edited by Sinéad Gleeson. This anthology is a follow-up to Sinéad’s last collection, The Long Gaze Back, an anthology of short stories from women writers in the Republic of Ireland, published last year. It featured well known names such as Maeve Brennan and Elizabeth Bowen and more recently published writers including Anne Enright, Eimear McBride and Lisa McInerney.

I’ve been dipping into The Glass Shore, reading a few stories a week and becoming familiar with writers I had never heard of. Sinéad has unearthed some gems from contemporary writers and resurrected some older ones, one of my favourites being the first story in the book, ‘The Mystery of Ora’ by Rosa Mulholland, a classic gothic tale with supernatural overtones. I also loved the Lucy Caldwell story, ‘Mayday’, a sparely written and affecting story about unwanted pregnancy that seems particularly relevant in the light of the Repeal the 8th campaign.

Sinéad is an incredibly accomplished woman: a broadcaster and journalist, a writer and editor. The Glass Shore is another feather in her cap and if you’re looking for present inspiration for the book lover in your life this is definitely a great purchase.