In praise of Claire Keegan, by Colin Barrett

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Very few novels have the formal perfection, narratorial poise and sublime ability to make the unsaid and unsayable glow, as Foster does’

Claire Keegan has so far published two pristine collections of short stories – Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields – and the standalone long short story Foster, a sui generis example of the form that won the 2009 Davy Byrnes short story award, appeared in the New Yorker to rapturous acclaim, and consequently had the distinction of being published as a standalone book by Faber.

To say that Foster has the complexity or emotional breadth of a novel is true in so far as it goes, but the comparison, to me, is unfair on novels: very few have the formal perfection, narratorial poise and sublime ability to make the unsaid and unsayable glow, as Foster does. Beneath the evocatively caught ebb and flow of event, action and detail, the story touches the ineffable, a vein of feeling the reader can recognise if not put a name to. Foster reveals new currents and depths whenever I read it again, as do the marvellous, surprising, mysterious stories in the earlier collections. Keegan’s output is, relatively speaking, slim, but so what? Read the work, then read it again. I don’t think Claire Keegan could write a bad, or even average, sentence if she tried.

Other favourites: Anne Enright and Eílis Ní Dhuibhne

“There is a pause during which my father spits and then the conversation turns to the price of cattle, the EEC, butter mountains, the cost of lime and sheep-dip. It is something I am used to, this way men have of not talking: they like to kick a divot out of the grass with a boot heel, to slap the roof of a car before it takes off, to spit, to sit with their legs wide apart, as though they do not care.”

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Claire Keegan

Read more from the Irish women writers series here.