Room Little Darker by June Caldwell is March’s Irish Times Book Club choice
A glitteringly dark collection of short stories, one of the best in recent years
June Caldwell’s linguistic verve is what keeps you paying attention, fascinated and appalled
Room Little Darker by June Caldwell, a glitteringly dark collection of short stories, is this month’s Irish Times Book Club selection. First published to acclaim last year by New Island, it is the first of their titles to be released in Britain by Head of Zeus under their recent deal.
Over the next four weeks, we shall be publishing a story from the collection and articles by the author and fellow writers Joanna Walsh, Maighread Medbh, Alan McMonagle, Michael Harding, Justine-Delaney Wilson, Elske Rahill and Frankie Gaffney. The month will culminate with a podcast of an interview with Caldwell by Irish Times Books Editor Martin Doyle, which was to have been recorded today at the Ennis Book Club Festival but has been cancelled because of the bad weather. Details of its rescheduling will be published as soon as this is confirmed.
Reviewing Room Little Darker in The Irish Times, Sarah Gilmartin wrote:
“Robot boys that rehabilitate paedophiles, sex-change clinics, demoralising orgies, alpha submissives caged in a Leitrim farmhouse and ogled by rubber clad gimps – June Caldwell’s debut collection of short stories makes Fifty Shades of Grey seem like a Disney movie.
“Room Little Darker is a fiercely inventive collection with a strong social slant. Caldwell, a former journalist, laments the current state of Irish society and seeks to rip up the rule book. The 11 stories in her challenging collection sometimes go so far into the surreal that they lose the plot.
“Caldwell’s modernist style and tendency to switch forms never let the reader rest. Each of her stories announces itself with a bang. The outrageous ideas for the most part have a realistic undertone, grounding Room Little Darker in a world that is oddly, awfully, familiar.
“Room Little Darker has similarities with Claire Louise Bennett’s debut Pond. Short story writers like Diane Cook, Kirsty Logan and Northern Ireland’s Jan Carson also come to mind in the collection’s preoccupations with the surreal, sex, reproduction and gender inequality.”
Currently living in Dublin, Caldwell has an MA in creative writing from Queen’s University Belfast. She won the Moth International Short Story Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award, the Lorian Hemingway Prize, and the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story Prize.
Ian Sansom in the Guardian wrote: “The shape and conception of the stories are often shocking enough, but Caldwell’s linguistic verve is what keeps you paying attention, fascinated and appalled ... The book amounts to an unsparing portrait of a city and a nation, with a singular voice heard throughout, lost in grief and longing, interrogating every motive and intention. It is banshee bold.”
Dermot Bolger in the Sunday Business Post wrote: “If these stories are dark, they are also linguistically dextrous. The writing is full of surprises, bold and yet reined in, being bereft of platitudes or the consoling comfort of white lies. This startling debut will linger long in the memory.”
The Irish Independent, likening Caldwell to Irvine Welsh and Hubert Selby jr, said: “Where some writers favour the lilt of poeticism, the cadence of beautiful prose, Caldwell has stirred up a bitches’ brew of anger, spiky rage and deft humour. She has captured the fetid air of Catholic Ireland, the pedestrian grey despair of the old folks’ home and the cloying stillness of suburbia. Yet the stories themselves are neither pedestrian, nor fetid. Each crackles with writing that doesn’t so much bristle the reader as approach them with a roaring chainsaw.
“Despite being a relative newcomer, Caldwell’s writing bristles with chaos and confidence. Her characters don’t always have the most charitable or charming worldviews, but they’re all the better for it. It’s clear there’s a strong, salty, swaggering writer behind such prose: better still, she has the literary nous to make her views on everything from dementia to contraception pulsate.”