Out with Old Troubles, in with the New
Craig, Patricia, The Independent (London, England)
THE GRANTA BOOK OF THE IRISH SHORT STORY Edited by Anne Enright Granta, Pounds 25, 422pp Pounds 22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
From George Moore's The Untilled Field of 1903, the Irish story has shown a tendency to react against the standard conception of the Irish story. First Moore, and then Joyce, had no time for peasant romanticism. They are jointly credited with giving an impetus to a form of writing attuned to modern times, full of truth and complexity.
Inevitably, though, other stereotypes crept in - priests, sin, red petticoats, drowned fishermen, revolutionaries holed up in the hills - to be discarded in their turn. Avant-garde anthologists (and there were many) throughout the 20th century compiled their selections in accordance with a topical agenda, but also with a basic objective in mind: simply to put together the best of whatever was available at any given moment.
Anne Enright's The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story follows the same pattern, including the giants of the genre (everyone from Elizabeth Bowen to William Trevor, whose marvellous story, "The Dressmaker's Child", brings the book to a forceful conclusion). It includes these giants alongside the untried, undervalued and up-and- coming. Her selection is confined to writers born after 1900 - though Bowen, six months on the wrong side of the cut-off point, gets in nevertheless, with the subtle and lucid "adultery" story, "Summer Night".
Indeed, more than half of Enright's contributors have a date of birth after 1950, allowing scope for a good range of "contemporary" tones - not all of them making for compelling reading. Some of her choices seem pretty pointless or disagreeable, and a couple are oblique to the point of incomprehensibility. But most deserve their place in the book.
The non-chronological arrangement works well, with stories from different eras striking sparks off one another. …