Friday 24 November 2017

Fiction: Memory and Desire Short Stories by Val Mulkerns

451 Editions €14.99

Memory and Desire Short Stories Val Mulkerns
Memory and Desire Short Stories Val Mulkerns

Anne Cunningham

This new anthology of Val Mulkerns' short stories comprises previously published material, taken from three anthologies. Now in her 91st year, this volume gives the uninitiated a flavour of what Sebastian Barry describes as her "Mulkernsian wildness".

The opening tale is of the humiliations suffered by Bartholomew Mullins, a 1916 volunteer imprisoned in Knutsfort jail. The second story is an odd kind of sequel to the first, with Bartholomew now working in Dublin. His loyal wife, pregnant on their second child, protests to her older, wealthier and childless married sister that she cannot simply surrender her baby.

'Summer in London' tells of three Irish girls working to fund their abortions. In "Humanae Vitae", the sexual inhibitions of de Valera's republic invade a marriage, leading the husband to paraphrase lines from Louis MacNeice's Dublin: 'This was never my country', he intoned, 'I was not born nor bred nor reared here and it will not have me alive nor dead.'

In the title story, a TV crew arrive to make a documentary about Bernard, an unpopular self-made millionaire. The long-repressed memory of his brother's accidental drowning, made into a piece of TV theatre, is to be Bernard's undoing. It's interesting to compare this retrospective anthology with Julia O'Faolain's recently-published retrospective collection, Under The Rose, especially since Mulkerns once worked for Sean O'Faolain, Julia O'Faolain's father.

Despite the "wildness" that Sebastian Barry sees in Val Mulkerns's writing, I feel that she is softer on her targets, bruising them rather than breaking them. Julia O'Faolain is more direct, more courageous, more capable of the coup de grace. That said, Memory and Desire is a fine collection from a fine writer.

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