Six of the best: Davy Byrnes Stories 2014
Review: After a summer of blockbusters, this compact collection is a reminder that there is often more satisfaction in a selection of starters than in a traditional three-course meal
Winner: Sara Baume. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Davy Byrne Stories
Sara Baume et al.
After a summer stuffed with blockbusters, this compact collection is a welcome reminder that there is often more punch, variety, subtlety and satisfaction in a selection of starters than in a traditional three-course meal.
Sara Baume’s Solesearcher1, which won the €15,000 first prize, about the unfathomable loneliness of a female plumber and shore angler in west Cork, reels you in and draws you down to the murky depths. It certainly whets the appetite for her brilliantly titled debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, which Tramp Press is bringing out in January.
Arja Kajermo’s The Iron Age, about a grim childhood in postwar Finland is so bleakly funny that it makes Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes seem idyllic. Trevor Byrne’s Go Down Sunday, about a predatory priest on a football club’s outing, is subtly executed but lacks the shock of the new that the others bring.
Julian Gough’s superb Harvest, however, takes the familiar – a couple’s night-time routine – but transforms it by the light of the exploding sun. He does not just pay homage to James Joyce’s The Dead: he comes close to emulating him. Colm McDermott’s Absence is a pitch-perfect study of lives emotionally stunted by loss that are suddenly surprised by love.
Danielle McLaughlin’s The Dinosaurs on Other Planets, in contrast to Harvest, features a married couple who share a bed but are estranged from each other; it ends with one spinning out of the other’s orbit, left to contemplate the solitude and immense power of the stars. A version was published in the New Yorker. While not as powerful as All the Dead Birds, her shortlisted entry to last year’s Irish Times short-story competition, it is further evidence that her debut collection, to be published next year by Stinging Fly, will be one to watch. By a curious coincidence, a detail in the story is inspired by an artwork by the competition winner, Sara Baume. Big talents in a small world.