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.

www.nualaoconnor.com

 

In conversation with author Nuala O’Connor

 

On Thursday night I had the pleasure of interviewing the author Nuala O’Connor at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast as part of the Belfast Book Festival.

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Photo: DRB Images

 

We were there to chat about her latest novel Miss Emily which tells the story of Emily Dickinson and her fictional Irish maid Ada Concannon.

We had a great evening, chatting about poetry, the process of writing and publishing, feminism, motherhood and Christmas trees!

If you haven’t read Miss Emily yet, I would highly recommend it. I reviewed it here and it was one of the loveliest books I have read all year.

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You can find out more about Nuala’s work at her blog and her website. Her other novels, You and The Closet of Savage Mementos and her short story collections Nude and Mother America are also well worth checking out.

http://www.facebook.com/nichonchuirnuala

http://www.nualanichonchuir.com

http://womenrulewriter.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/author/nualanichonchuir

Irish Book Awards 2015 – Shortlist Announced!

 

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The Shortlist for the Irish Book Awards was announced today and there are some great books and authors to check out. The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards brings together the entire literary community – readers, authors, booksellers, publishers and librarians – to recognise and celebrate the very best of Irish literary talent across thirteen categories, including Novel of the Year, Popular Fiction, Non-fiction, Crime, Children’s, Sports, Short Stories and Cookery.

The Best Novel category is a particularly strong one and includes two of my favourite reads of the year – Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor and Tender by Belinda McKeon. I am secretly hoping that Nuala wins as I’m hosting a Q&A and reading of Miss Emily in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast in December and it would be great to chat about a potential win! I have The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien from Net Galley and it is another book I am very much looking forward to. Regular readers to the blo will know m felings for Paul Murray, so all in all, this is an incredibly strong collection of novels.

Eason Book Club Novel of the Year
• Tender by Belinda McKeon (Pan Macmillan / Picador)
• Miss Emily by Nuala O’ Connor (Sandstone Press Ltd)
• The Green Road by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
• The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton)
• Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (Canongate Books)
• The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’ Brien (Faber & Faber)

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I’m also delighted to see The Long Gaze Back included in the Best Irish Published Book of the Year. This anthology of short stories by Irish female writers goes someway to balancing out the gender bias of many anthologies and collections of Irish writing. I am half way through The Long Gaze Back at the moment and it is a great read.

TheJournal.ie Best Irish Published Book of the Year
• Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way by Carsten Krieger (The O’Brien Press)
• The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson (New Island Books)
• Windharp edited by Niall Mc Monagle (Penguin Ireland)
• 1916: Portraits and Lives by Lawrence William White and James Quinn (Royal Irish Academy)
• Handbook of the Irish Revival: An Anthology of Cultural and Political Writings 1891 –1922 by Declan Kiberd and P.J.Mathews (Abbey Theatre Press)
• Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World by Jennifer Goff (Irish Academic Press)

 

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Another fantastic inclusion in the shortlist is Martina Devlin, whose About Sisterland has been shortlisted in the Popular Fiction Book of the Year category. I interviewed Martina on the blog last month and would love to see her win!

Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year
• About Sisterland by Martina Devlin (Ward River Press)
• The Dress by Kate Kerrigan (Head of Zeus)
• Seedless in Seattle by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly (Penguin Ireland)
• The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)
• The Way We Were by Sinead Moriarty (Penguin Ireland)
• Another Heartbeat in the House by Kate Beaufoy (Transworld Ireland)

 

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There are some very exciting new voices shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year award, including Sara Baume for Spill Simmer Falter Wither and Lisa McInerney for The Glorious Heresies, both of which I was bought as a wedding anniversary present (along with The Long Gaze Back and Miss Emily!).

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I hope to read them both over the next few months and review them during Reading Ireland Month 2016 (next March – get that date in your diaries!)

Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year
• Eggshells by Caitriona Lally (Liberties Press)
• Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume (Tramp Press)
• The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (John Murray)
• Hopscotch: A Memoir by Hilary Fannin (Doubleday Ireland)
• Dinosaurs On Other Planets by Danielle Mc Laughlin (Stinging Fly Press)
• Weightless by Sarah Bannan (Bloomsbury Circus)

 

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The short story section is also strong and includes What Time Is It, Where You Are Now? from Colum McCann’s stunning Thirteen Ways of Looking. It wouldn’t be my favourite story from that collection, but it is incredibly clever and well written.

Writing.ie Short Story of the Year
• A Slanting of the Sun by Donal Ryan (A Slanting of the Sun) (Doubleday)
• BOY, 19 by John Boyne (Beneath the Earth, (Doubleday)
• The Journey to Galway by Colm Toibin (Faber/The Irish Times)
• December Swimmers by Paul Lenehan (The Moth)
• monologue for cabman by Kevin Barry (The Stinging Fly Press)
• What Time Is It Now, Where Are You? By Colum McCann (Thirteen Ways of Looking, Bloomsbury)

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What’s most fantastic about the Irish Book Awards is that the voting is now open to the public until 19 November 2015. You can vote in as many categories as you like on the website here and the winners will be announced at a ceremony in Dublin on 25 November. You can get more information and the full list of shortlisted books on the Irish Book Awards website.

 
Have you read any of the shortlisted books? Who would you cast your vote for?

The Miss Emily Giveaway winner is….

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Congratulations to Barbara at Book Club Mom who has won a signed copy of Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor. The winner was chosen using Random Picker. A big thanks to everyone who entered.

Miss Emily winnerToday is also the final day for Public Voting for the Irish Blog Awards. I am shortlisted for Best Arts & Culture blog and would love it if you could take a moment to vote for me here

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It would be amazing (but highly unlikely!) to be one of the finalists!

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – review & giveaway!

While we are trying for others, power of life comes back, very faint at first, life the new bird, but by and by it has wings.

Emily Dickinson, Letters of Emily Dickinson

I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Nuala O’Connor’s new book Miss Emily at the Gutter Book Shop in Dublin last month.

With the lovely Nuala O'Connor!

With the lovely Nuala O’Connor!

Miss Emily is her third novel, following on from You and The Closet of Savage Mementoes and depicts the fictional relationship between the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid Ada Concannon in 1860s. During this time, Dickinson famously rarely left her house in Amherst, dressed all in white and wrote most of the poetry that would be published after her death. Told in dual voices, the relationship between the reclusive poet and her bright, talkative maid is teased out as they bond over baking and domestic chores with an attention to small detail that feels appropriate for a book set almost entirely in one house.

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In alternating chapters we explore the forging of a female friendship across class and background. Despite her family’s disdain for their closeness, Emily sees something of herself in Ada. Both are strong and independent in their choices, yet both are bound by the expectations of society and their place within it. Emily is at liberty to write all day while Ada is in service, but likewise, Ada is free to go to the circus when it comes to town, while Emily could not do something so inappropriate, as much as she would like. Yet both these women have also made life choices on their own terms. Feeling constrained in Ireland, Ada emigrates on her own, barely out of her teens. Emily, feeling constrained by polite society and the expectation upon her to marry and have a family, retreats from that society to write her beloved poems.

I do not wish for travel or brave new lands, only a house surrounded by a sprawling orchard that holds orioles and bluebirds that trill for my ears alone; a cosy home with a kitchen uncluttered by others. I do not desire a man or babes; a husband would demand too much, I fear, of my time, or my very self.

While the chapters alternate between Ada and Emily, experiences and thoughts overlap giving a depth and understanding to both their characters. By showing us Emily through Ada’s eyes and through her own thoughts, O’Connor questions the myth of Emily as the mad woman in the attic, shutting out the world to nothing but words.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

The woman behind the words comes to the fore, a woman who loved literature and baking, loved her family, had a sweet tooth and was a devout friend. The depth of her empathy emerges as Ada faces a trauma that threatens her new life in America and what becomes clear is that both these women transcend the norms expected of them in an honest and true manner.

But convention never has been, and never will be, my first choice. I have chosen not to live as woman is supposed to live. The choice is mine…

There is an attention to detail of the customs and language of the time and the book contains some beautiful, lyrical prose. Dried pears are ‘silenced yellow tongues’ while a good man has ‘kindness…as rich as yolk in him’ while the descriptions of cooking and baking are rich and vivid. Like Emily, we see the poetry in the everyday. The passages about the process of writing are also intriguing as O’Connor deftly captures Emily’s overwhelming need to write and to write often.

Words lie in me like water in a riddle’s well. They tempt me, like nothing else. Not man, not God….Yes, words tempt and tease me and they send me teetering forward.

Both Ada and Emily are vividly conveyed, their voices alive and true. This tale may be fictional, but it still adds something to the history of Emily and her ‘vital, immortal words’. Her famous choice to not leave her home and to wear white are given context and understanding and appear more logical than unusual as Emily pares down her life to what she deems essential. O’Connor beautifully captures this decision by Emily in a passage echoing her poetic use of the dash;

From now on I shall be candle-white. Dove-, bread-, swan-, shroud-, ice-, extraordinarily-white. I shall be blanched, bleached and bloodless to look at; my very whiteness will be my mark. But inside, of course, I will roar and soar and flash with colour.

O’Connor success here is to show the reader the flashes of colour beneath the white, to capture the spirit of Emily Dickinson, without relying heavily on her poems or letters, rather by using their essence and spirit. Although it is undoubtedly an historical novel, it reads more as an ode to an unlikely friendship between two very different women, women who know their own mind and understand where home is for them and what strength they need to attain it.

Nuala O'Connor

Nuala O’Connor

I will be in conversation with Nuala O’Connor about this wonderful novel at the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast on 25th November 2015 which I am very much looking forward to and you can book tickets here.

I am also giving away a signed copy of Miss Emily to readers of my blog. To be in with a chance to win, simply comment below or share this post on Twitter. Competition is open world-wide and will close on Saturday 19th September at 6pm when I will draw a winner with Random Picker. Good luck!

Naomi at Consumed by Ink has reviewed Miss Emily here, as has EJ at ebookclassics here. Check out their views!