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By Salt Water by Angela Bourke
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's review
Nov 09, 2011

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bookshelves: irish-authors
Read from November 08 to 09, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: once

A very nice collection of "little" stories—capturing the small events that may have major repercussions in the lives of the characters. Or may not. The stories generally fall into two categories: a good half of them are narrated by pre-pubescent girls, still children but on the very cusp of adolescence, with the first inkling that there is more to the adult world than previously imagined. The other half are from the point of view of young women, embarked upon careers perhaps, or just back from their "gap", or even approaching the edges of middle age; they are still vulnerable (as we all are), but more wary and at the same time less fearful, more confident.

There seemed to me to be a lot of "widow-hood" in these plots. Perhaps that is a feminist fantasy: love has not died, but that inconvenient lover has gracefully bowed out. That may sound harsh, but I don't mean it to be: I saw a very interesting flowering in my own mother after my father died, as she came into her own in ways that weren't necessary or possible previously.

My favourite story in the "widow" genre was called "Le soleil et le vent". A young woman, recently widowed thanks to a motor accident, finds a series of photographs of her late husband and another woman, at various conferences in North America. And then a photo of that woman with a child, unmistakably her husband's. Does she do anything? Can she? Should she? It's a delicious conceit.

Angela Bourke is a professor of Modern Irish (language) at University College, Dublin, and I know her best from her non-fiction, particularly her biography of Maeve Brennan, the Dublin-born woman who was a long-time contributor for the New Yorker. I'm going to have to check her introduction to Brennan's bio and see just when it was she "discovered" her subject (for I do remember reading that was how she felt: unearthing this almost forgotten writer). I want to do that because Brennan also wrote quite a bit from the perspective of a young girl, all her stories set in Ranelagh. And though Professor Bourke doesn't mention the specific place, her young Una is also a Ranelagh girl.

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