Kilcullen Diary: Review

Read Brian Byrne’s review of This Cruel Station, stories here…

This Cruel Station. Martin Malone. Short Stories. Published by Doire Press.

A book of good short stories is like an Easter egg, writes Brian Byrne. Break it open and eat a piece, and it becomes difficult not to eat more until you finish it all, even if you had absolutely planned to leave the rest for later.

So it is with this new collection from Kildare writer Martin Malone. I had intended dipping in and out over maybe a week. But like with the pieces of chocolate, I couldn’t stop nibbling.

Those familiar with this author’s work will know that he doesn’t write succulent milk chocolate. More the high-quality dark stuff, where there’s a strong under-taste of bitterness that both complements and contrasts the chocolate flavour.

The short pieces here are unrelated. But they all probe at human matters and situations more than making big statements. I’m not going to go into details of any of them, but every reader will likely have had personal experience directly or indirectly with at least some of the themes explored.

The stories also reflect real life in that mostly there’s not an end at the end. Just like life, there’s a future beyond the episode, with its unknowns which may or may not become sequels. One of the nice things about writing short stories is that you don’t have to go beyond the now at the final full stop.

In this collection there are echoes of the author’s home places and life, and also of the work he has been involved in far beyond Kildare town, recalling his peacekeeping times in the Middle East. He has done what every writer is urged to do, write what you know, from your own experience, or what you see happening around you. But it takes a further experience to learn how to actually do that, and then move to the next level. In this collection — added to his previous seven novels, short story collections and playwriting — we can see clearly just how much Martin Malone continues to mature as a writer.

Staying with the Easter egg theme, there is an extra piece of interest in the book, as with the samples of whatever chocolate bars under which the modern eggs are marketed. A longer story, a novella, extends and concludes the collection. Its proposition is right up to date, linking Ireland’s efforts on refugee resettlement with the author’s first hand knowledge of conditions in Libya and neighbouring countries — and most of all, of the people involved. In this one the reader is gently led in, then shocked by the successive lobbing of unanticipated narrative grenades.

This collection relies heavily on the author’s excellent ear for conversation, and how he has learned to transcribe that into a vehicle for narrative which is both interesting and believable. At first sip, sections of dialogue might read a tad haphazard, even disjointed. But then, like tastings of interesting but not expensive wine on the palate, they rise beyond the price. And everything suddenly becomes just right.

Wine and chocolate, especially dark chocolate, will always do it for me.

Irish Trumps

With one in four young people leaving school with difficulties in reading and writing English, their Mother working tongue, I’ve often wondered if children in Irish-speaking schools are put at a further disadvantage in this regard – do they have to get grinds in English? The fact that Irish is the first language – imposed on a predominately English-speaking population – is farcical and a slight on democracy. In fact, I doubt if even Trump would be bullish enough to moot such an attack on the individual rights of a majority population. But it has happened here; in a state moulded by our own Trumps; Dev, the Catholic Church, and the two main political parties, whose chief policies centre on keeping the small man ‘small.’ And on choking the living shite out of truth before anyone picks up on its scent(whistleblowers). I think as a nation we should cherish the language, aspire to make it the ‘real’ language of choice by the majority of people – and not one made so by a minority.

A moment of Clarity

Here I am. Two years off 60, slowly going deaf, needing to wear reading glasses, pricking myself daily and recording the prick details in my prick sugar book. On the plus side, I don’t use Viagra, but have two bottles of said pills on my bedside locker, next to the sugar book, the pack of ultra thin blue(role play Avatar) condoms, and other sex necessities, like a collection of broken sex  products bought under the counter at a local St Vinnie de Paula shop – you would not believe the stuff that people give away. Stuff with a dozen wears or more left in them. What I’m trying to say is this, I think, if the next 20 years pass by as quickly as the last 20, I’ll be 78. I’m just hoping that all of me wears out at the same time. Money needs too – teeth implants, hair restoration, laser eye treatment and an operation of sorts to halt, nay re-address penile erosion. Dentures, a wig, spectacles and wishful thinking won’t do it for me.