Joyride to Jupiter by Nuala O’Connor

Joyride to Jupiter cover

Nuala O’Connor’s stunning new collection of short stories Joyride to Jupiter opens with the line ‘I knew something was going to go wrong as sure as I knew west was west’ and closes with the promise that ‘All will be well.’ Things do go wrong in these stories, sometimes very wrong, but O’Connor moves seamlessly from despair to hope in this witty, humorous and moving collection.

Loss permeates a lot of the stories in Joyride to Jupiter as relationships falter, adulteries happen and familial ties are tested.

In the affecting Tinnycross estranged brothers are fighting over the inheritance of their family home, while the narrator of Consolata looks back on the childhood moment when she caught her father having sex with a nun. ‘How could my Sister Consolata want to be better friends with my father than with me?’

In Futuretense a copywriter for a fragrance company reflects on the suicide of her brother as she comes up with the blurb for new scents; while Squidinky depicts a tattooist grieving for her dead partner.

Yet this is not a depressing collection by any means. What makes these stories successful is the deft blending of wit and tenderness coupled with effective and welcome moments of humour. O’Connor is also skilfully aware of the importance in the short story of allowing nothing in particular to happen; yet when dramatic moments come they feel cohesive and well-timed.

In the wonderfully named title story, a man struggles to deal with his wife’s dementia and her regression into child-like precociousness. She starts wearing tracksuits and cheap teenage make-up and becomes more and more reliant on her husband.

And then she laughed because laughter falls from her now as it never did; it falls and pools around us, the one good thing. I knelt and stepped her feet into her knickers and pulled them up. I put her arms into the sleeves of her blouse and fiddled with the tiny buttons. She was childlike in her pliancy. I kissed her forehead. ‘You’re my dolly’, I said.

Poignancy soon gives way to unease as O’Connor skilfully portrays the unreliability of our narrator and as with all these stories there is a sense for the reader that we are never quite sure where we are going to be taken.

There is a strong sense of place in these stories, from rural Ireland to Naples via Rio de Janeiro, with vivid descriptions of landscape that often catch the breath.

Tonight there is a moon-rind, a nicotined fingernail, hanging low over the lake; above it, a Swarovski sparkler of a star

Being in a place or being away from a place are often the crux of these stories, whether it be a Ukrainian chambermaid watching her child grow up via Skype or a young emigre working in Manhattan and thinking of her mother back in Galway. These characters might as well be on Jupiter for the distance they have to breach.

My face is a shadow. My Mammy’s features blur and slip out of focus. I put my hand to the glass and rub at it to try to conjure her again. And I am flattened by the truth of things; no more than the poor little maneen from Ballinasloe, I will never look into my Mammy’s eyes again.

O’Connor’s characters are often ‘flattened by the truth of things’ and a lot of the stories rest on a moment of realisation and clarity. Whether or not anything will come of these moments of revelation is often tantalisingly left up to the reader.

Narrative voices are well-captured, particularly in the hilarious Penny and Leo in Married Bliss, where Penny’s anger at her belief that Leo is cheating, online and in real life, doesn’t stop her from fantasising about a tryst with the local priest.

Ah, he’s a fine thing though. God forgive me but I’d bounce up and down on Father Hugh Boylan all night, given a chance

The seemingly ironic nature of the title of the story does not play out the way you would expect and the story turns on its head to suggest that happiness comes in many forms.

In Joyride to Jupiter, the shortest pieces are no less affecting, unsurprising given O’Connor’s experience as a flash fiction writer. In Fish a neighbouring man and woman see each other in a state of undress, ‘and none of it could be undone’ while in the affecting Girlgrief a mother deals with the death of her grown son by looking after his daughter she has never met before. The ingenious Yellow verges towards science fiction as couples try to catch flying babies in a net – the style of the story perfectly capturing the surreal nature of infertility treatment.

Joyride to Jupiter is a collection that shows a writer with complete mastery of her craft. The best of the stories hint rather than shout but all are poignant and complex, riding on the dichotomy between hope and despair. She is clear-eyed when exploring the dark realities of human behaviour, but the humour and wit displayed within her affecting prose allow this collection to soar.

 Nuala O'Connor author 2

Nuala O’Connor AKA Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin, she lives in East Galway. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in June 2017. Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) published Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid. Miss Emily was shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and longlisted for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, will be published in 2018.


Reading Ireland Month Round Up!

ireland month

So there we have it. The inaugural Reading Ireland Month/ Begorrathon is over and what a great month it has been!

With over 100 blog posts, an array of writers, poets, musicians and movies were explored. I read 10 books by Irish authors out of my 746 and discovered many, many more writers I would love to read! I’ll be compiling all the fantastic blog posts submitted into an Ireland Month 2015 Page in the next few weeks.

I also ran out of time and didn’t get to post about A Girl is a Half Formed Thing (which I loved) or Michael McDonagh’s The Pillowman – both of which I read. Next year could someone make March just a few days longer please?!

Congratulations to the winners of my weekly giveaways:

Col at The Only Way is Reading won the Roddy Doyle books

Raven Crime Reads won the Irish Crime package

Linda at Crime Worm won the Yeats 2015 giveaway

Akylina at The Literary Sisters won the Nuala Ní Chonchúir/ Leland Bardwell books

Highlights of the month for me were the response to my post on the rise of Irish Crime Fiction, getting the chance to interview the fantastic Nuala Ní Chonchúir and wasting an entire afternoon trawling through Father Ted clips on You Tube!

final read collage

I’ve also learned a few things this month.

  • I can read a lot more books when I need to. I could have this 746 done and dusted much quicker if I just put my mind to it
  • If I hadn’t set myself this mad 746 challenge, I would absolutely have a blog about Irish literature instead
  • I have so many Irish books that I didn’t get to that I think I’ll still be doing Ireland Month in 2018!
  • I’ve really enjoyed pushing myself and writing about books and literature outside of the 746 and I may try and find a way to incorporate that into the blog in the future.

 Finally and most importantly, I’ve learned that you guys are fantastic. Thanks to everyone who took part, from the blog posts to the retweets, you have all been supportive and joined in the fun.

A massive thanks to Niall at The Fluff is Raging for co-hosting this celebration with me and to V at The Verbal Spew for sponsoring the Great Irish care Package prize, the winner of which will be announced at the start of next week.

So for now, it’s back to normality here at 746books. I’ll keep working on that TBR and am looking forward to hosting an Age of Innocence Read-a-Long with Jacqui Wine’s Journal and planning my books for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. You can be sure though that there will be a little bit of plotting and planning going on backstage for The Begorrathon 2016! Keep following the Begorrathon on Facebook for news on Irish Literature and plans for next year.

An Interview with Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and now lives in East Galway. Her fourth short story collection Mother America was published by New Island in 2012. Her third poetry collection The Juno Charm was published by Salmon Poetry in 2011 and Nuala’s critically acclaimed second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos appeared April 2014 from New Island.

Under the name Nuala O’Connor, Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) will publish Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, in summer 2015.

Nuala image

I had the pleasure recently of asking Nuala some questions about her writing, her processes and her thoughts on literature.

Can you tell us a bit about the day to day process of your writing. Do you set aside specific time and place for your writing?

Yes, I am rigid about my writing time and protecting it. I have kids, so I write while they are at school in the mornings – I have 5 hours or so, per day, but I only write creatively for part of that. The rest of the time is for the business end: reviews, reading, PR stuff, interviews, blogging.
My desk is in my bedroom, which is grand, but I am starting to long for a study (I had one until we had another child…) My bedroom is overflowing with writing junk: books, papers, research boxes. I like clutter but this is getting icky.

What part does Ireland play in your writing? Do you consider yourself an ‘Irish’ writer or part of an Irish tradition?

People go on about labels and the danger of them but I am Irish and am happy to identify as an Irish writer. I’m also feminist so ‘woman writer’ doesn’t bother me too much. I’m on the side of special prizes for women – they represent solidarity in a male-dominated world. Anything that shines a light on women’s literature is good with me.
Not all my writing is set in Ireland but there’s a comfort and an ease to writing Irish characters – I know the landscape of Irish personalities, I know the language.

The Irish Times are celebrating Irish women writers at the moment and attempting to address their under-representation. Do you feel that women writers are marginalised in favour of their male counterparts? Who are your favourite female writers from Ireland?

In general, yes. The boys appear to look after the boys. Though there are scads of female writers making great inroads: Anne Enright is our new Fiction Laureate; Sara Baume is scooping up plaudits; the Novel Fair and initiatives like it are giving women an even playing field. I’m excited about the fresh crop: Máire T. Robinson and Eimear Ryan, for example, as much as the likes of Mary Morrissy, Mary O’Donnell, Mia Gallagher et al. I love the writings of Elizabeth Bowen, Anakana Schofield, Órfhlaith Foyle, among many.

You’ve written poetry and short stories as well as novels. Do you have a preferred discipline and do you feel being a writer of poetry affects your prose style?

I’m so immersed in novel-writing these last few years, I’d have to say I’m happiest in novel-land at the moment. I’m passionate about the short story but I don’t get to write them much anymore. When I have finished the first draft of novel #4 (soon! soon!) I plan to switch to stories for a while. I feel I deserve to. The long haul of the novel is a great comfort blanket but I crave the switchiness and dexterity of writing stories.

Language is sacred to poets so, when you write fiction too, that reverence continues and blossoms into the prose.

You have a website, a blog, a FB page, and a Twitter account. And you’re active on all of them, interacting with readers and other writers. Why do you like social media as much as you seem to, and what advice would you have for aspiring writers keen to take advantage of social media?

Like everyone, I get very weary of social media – the constancy of it, the work it involves, the endless tootling about projects…but I live in a quiet town in East Galway so I love the connections the net affords to me with fellow writers and book-lovers, and with my friends and family who are in other places.
Advice? Only set up a blog if you have something to say and if you can commit to it. There are WAY too many dusty writers’ blogs out there. Write about your passions. Be generous towards, and friendly with, other artists. Don’t always talk about yourself – offer information on lit comps, calls for subs etc.

Following on from the last question, you are a keen proponent of ‘flash fiction’. What draws you to this genre and what are the particular rewards and challenges for the writer?

You can write them quickly. They’re punchy and succinct. They give the hit of a poem yet don’t have to have a coherent narrative like a story. They are great for language play. They support the odd and the surreal very well.

What can you tell us about your new novel, Miss Emily?

It’s set in 1866, mostly in Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Ada Concannon, a young Irish maid, arrives there to work for the Dickinsons and befriends Emily. You get to see the more social side of Emily while she helps Ada through various difficulties.
The PR side of things for the book is gearing up now, which is exciting. I’ll be in the States in April, July and August on the promo trail, so that will be fun.


‘You’ and ‘The Closet of Savage Mementos’ were both set in Ireland and Scotland in the not so distant past. ‘Miss Emily’ is more obviously historical fiction. Does this kind of novel involve more research, or are all novels set in the past, be it the 1980s or the 1880s, historical in some sense?

Tons of research! You want to get the period right and especially the details about real peoples’ lives. I did so much reading around Emily Dickinson and the 1860s in America and Ireland. It was hugely enjoyable.
My novel YOU is set in Dublin in 1980 and the narrator is ten years old. I was 10 in 1980 so I relied a lot on memory but I read papers from the time and studied news programmes and the contemporary music too.
I am currently immersed in Victorian London for novel #4. Again, the research is an absolute pleasure. I love pinpointing the food, the clothing, the transport etc. I’m just back from a research trip to London where I touched documents my characters had touched. That gives a certain kind of thrill.

I would like to thank Nuala for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ll be reviewing her novel You later today on the blog. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about Nuala and her work (and I urge you to!) you can check her out at her various social media outlets!