The Hennessey Book of Irish Fiction | Review

Hennessey Literary Awards.

The Hennessey Book of Irish Fiction 2005-2015 is an anthology of twenty-five short stories by writers who won or were short-listed for the Hennessey Literary Awards.  Published by New Island Press, the stories are arranged in chronological order beginning with 2005 and ending with the most recent prize winning stories.  Among those featured include Maire T. Robinson, Sara Baume, Kevin Power, Andrew Fox and Niamh Boyce.

Even with a rudimentary knowledge of the Hennessey Literary Awards, it only takes a few pages for any reader to see that the work is saturated in Irish accents.  But despite that common vein that flows through each story, the difference between every individual story is remarkable.  What could be a never-ending tale of Irish pubs and everything Guinness is a surprising and refreshing collection of stories.  The collection moves fluently between more progressive and traditional literary trends.

The opening story by Alan Jude Moore titled “Passenger” begins with a typical train ride to Dublin.  The narrator, a run-of-the-mill family man burdened with a lifetime of worries and regrets, encounters an exotic dancer sitting across from him on the train.  He writes, “She continued to talk, about the club where she worked, about having to keep in shape, the perfume she wore when dancing and the one she wore outside,” (10).  Moore combines the stereotypical with the atypical to create a successful story and set a formidable tone for the collection.

Selina Guinness pens a story with a more traditional Irish setting titled “Amongst the Living”.  Whereas Moore’s and other stories like his favour atypical plots, Guinness introduces the stereotypical Irish sheep farm.  The narrator, a sheep farmer, “Stood there with his foot on the first step, the orphan’s head lolling against his leg, and his eyes searched her face as they used to do when they first lay together.  She held the tiny lamb closer against her dressing gown, and only dared to breathe herself,” (83).  It’s a sweet and serene story that soothes the saltiness that other stories bring.

“Cow Tipping” by Oona Frawley introduces slang, accents, and racial friction into the collection.  What might be considered one of the more liberal and progressive short stories in the collection is a wonderful foray beyond the ‘norm’ that the Hennessey Literary Awards seems to gravitate towards.  Frawley writes, “His last evening rolled around and Jule started to cave; she was too nice.  All ‘ight, Aaron, she said.  We going dancing: you wanna come? A night club, you know,” (114).  Frawley’s dialogue is a refreshing break from the Irish accents.

Overall, the collection maintains a fresh vibe that easily moves from story to story without missing a beat.  The editors Dermot Bolger and Ciaran Carty were most successful in their selections.  And while the overall nature of the collection is seamless and consistent, I can’t help but wonder if any other factors contributed to the selection of particular authors.  The introduction says very little in regards to the selection process.  Carty writes, “Some were winners of Hennessey Awards, others just seemed to fit,” (4).  Carty is correct in noting that these stories seem to fit into one cohesive piece, and perhaps that’s reason enough for their selection.

The Hennessey Book of Irish Fiction 2005-2015, edited by Dermot Bolger & Ciaran Carty.

Published by New Island.

ISBN: 978-1-84840-423-6

Guideline Price: €14.99

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