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Reviews: ‘All We Shall Know’ and ‘The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales’

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan *** 9780857524379
‘Melody Shee is alone and in trouble. Her husband doesn’t take her news too well. She doesn’t want to tell her father yet because he’s a good man and this could break him. She’s trying to stay in the moment, but the future is looming – larger by the day – while the past won’t let her go. What she did to Breedie Flynn all those years ago still haunts her. It’s a good thing that she meets Mary Crothery when she does. Mary is a young Traveller woman, and she knows more about Melody than she lets on. She might just save Melody’s life. Donal Ryan’s new novel is breathtaking, vivid, moving and redemptive.’

All We Shall Know is another title which I requested from Netgalley, from an author I’ve heard a little about but have never read.  I tend not to read much Irish fiction, especially that which is encompassed by the broad title ‘contemporary’, but the premise intrigued me, and I thought I’d give it a go.  I started it just by chance to see what it was like, and found it immediately engrossing.  The whole is gritty, and the prose is startling at times.  The narrative voice was realistic in a refreshing way; you’ll know what I mean if you read this.  I had no real idea throughout about the direction which the story would take, and was quite surprised at the sheer scale of the emotional depth in such a slim novel.

The drawback for me was that the Irish dialect used throughout was rather overdone.  I see its necessity, sure, but phrasing was repeated rather a lot, and such inclusion put me off reading at points.  The sections of conversation which lasted past two or three exchanges felt a little jarring to read.  I did not feel as though the novel was quite sustained throughout; its beginning was compelling, but the rest of the book just didn’t quite match it.  An odd story, but an interesting one.

 

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan *** 9781907773754
I borrowed this from the Mitchell Library (which is, frankly, the most incredible bookish place I’ve ever visited).  Having read both The Gracekeepers and A Portable Shelter, I already knew that I really enjoy Logan’s writing; she is creative and inventive, qualities which are often difficult to achieve, particularly in the field of contemporary fiction.

As with a lot of the strong short story collections which I have come across, I did not adore every tale here, but I did admire them all, both in the strength of their writing, and the use of literary techniques.  Sadly, some of the stories felt a little rushed or unfinished, and several ended a little too abruptly for my liking.  A couple of the tales had so much scope, but I do not feel as though their potential was fully realised.

As far as ideas go, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is fresh, but it is not quite what I was expecting, I must admit.  A lot of mystery is embedded into the stories, and much of the time, it was nowhere near as well wrought as it could have been.  The whole was rather intriguing, but it does not quite match up to my favourite short story collections, as I thought it may have done when I began to read.

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A Creative Conversation with Kirsty Logan

I have something a little different, but still eminently literary, for you today!  At the University of Glasgow, we are lucky enough to have some excellent extracurricular talks organised for us by the English and Creative Writing departments.  These are arranged under the umbrella heading of ‘Creative Conversations’, and take place every Monday lunchtime.  Yesterday marked the first of these, and what better guest could the University have selected but Creative Writing alumna Kirsty Logan?

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I wasn’t quite quick enough to snap a good photo whilst Kirsty was talking, so here’s a lovely picture I borrowed from her website (www.kirstylogan.com)

I am quite a fan of Logan’s work, and have been for rather a long time now (you can read my gushing review of The Gracekeepers here).  Although yesterday’s crowd sadly didn’t quite fill the chapel in which the Conversations take place, the audience felt warm and receptive, and I can only hope that Logan felt the same about this.

Suitably Hallowe’en themed down to Logan’s skeleton-themed outfit, the hour-long talk began with a spellbinding reading of ‘The Keep’, and included a new and incredibly chilling story entitled ‘My Body Cannot Forget Your Body’.  The tales were interspersed with questions from the chair Rob Maslin, and members of the audience.  I came unprepared, I am sad to admit, and therefore didn’t volunteer myself to ask anything, but I very much enjoyed the breadth of the questions which were asked, and doubt I could have done much better myself.  They ranged from the inspiration which Logan found on her recent month-long trip to an Icelandic writers’ retreat, to the influence of her family members upon her writing; the short of it is that she does not tend to write about those she knows, as ‘everyone needs a secret which they can keep just to themselves’.

Logan discussed many things about her writing: perspective, and the use of the first and second person narrative voices (‘I quite like the reader to inhabit the story… so each has a different interpretation.  Anything’s right…  You should always give the reader space…  I quite like to speak to the reader… [and] use a direct address’); her preference of writing short stories with the use of a frame narrative; her hope to always be able to alternate between writing novels and short stories; her upcoming project (which will be set in a pseudo-Icelandic landscape); and her insistence that she doesn’t count herself as a novelist.  Rather, she inferred, she prefers to write a lot of short stories and link them together.  She is interested – as anyone who has read any of her work will know – in experimenting with the traditional form, and takes much inspiration from fairytales.  As an impatient reader herself, wanting the author to get straight into the action, she has always been inspired by the directness of fairytales and their power.  She also spoke at length about the timelessness of the fairytale form, and how we in the modern world can still relate to the tales; indeed, ‘The Keep’ is a retelling of ‘Bluebeard’.

In the pipeline for Logan are more books (both a short story collection and a novel), a visual arts project, and a couple of films.  She also expressed her longing to work on written video games.  She is currently attempting to write about things which scare her, prompted in part by the isolated writers’ retreat, in which she was left alone for great parts of the day away from her friends and family.  This led her to speak about her craft: ‘I can’t write when I’m happy.  When I write I need to be sad, or lonely, or grieving in some way’.  The writing side of her life is viewed by her almost as an alter ego; a ‘separate persona’ that she ‘vaguely’ knows.  This distinction is important for her: ‘Everything I write is so personal, but then as soon as it’s on the page, it isn’t you anymore’.

Eloquent and warm, Kirsty Logan is a marvellous speaker, with a wonderful reading voice, and full and thoughtful responses to everything asked of her.  The inaugural Creative Conversation of this season was wonderful, and hopefully paves the way for many more interesting and inspiring talks.  I shall leave the last word to Logan herself: ‘We can still find truth in stories’.

(Just FYI, Kirsty’s blog is a wonderful place to go to if you’re looking for something a little different to read.)