Book Review: Galway Stories:2020 edited by Alan McMonagle and Lisa Frank

Doire Press €15.00

The Covid pandemic scuppered Galway’s chance to showcase itself as the European Capital of Culture 2020 and we’re all the worse off for that. But for the year that was supposed to be in it, Doire Press has published a marvellous anthology, Galway Stories:2020 which is, I believe, in its second print run already. We may have not reached Galway in person this year, but this book at least allows us to be there in spirit, with pictures by Róisín Flaherty, illustrations by Tríona Walsh and information on the locations within the stories provided by Tom Kenny.

With nine of the stories set in Galway city and twelve set in various parts of the county, this collection features some very big names like Patrick McCabe, E.M Reapy, Caoilinn Hughes, Nuala O’Connor, Niamh Boyce and the latest trailblazer in Irish fiction, Elaine Feeney, whose debut novel As You Were has become probably the most talked-about novel of the year.  Themes sweep from the parochial to the universal and, as you’d expect, there’s a distinct west-of-ireland tang about the place. Whether it be a backstreet boxing club or the stage entrance to the Róisín Dubh, a barstool in Taylor’s or a quiet smallholding in Connemara, the melding of character to place in almost every story is meticulous.

Particular favourites for me were Alan Caden’s Socrates, in His Later Years, a fable about the ravages of alcoholism, Niamh Boyce’s The Doteen, a chilling and suspenseful tale of domestic abuse, sprinkled with an unexpected smattering of macabre theatre, Micheál Ó Chongaile’s Father, a poignant story about an only son’s coming out to his beloved but old-school father, Elaine Feeney’s Sojourn, about the death of a marriage among other things, and Danny Denton’s Motorbike Accident, Roscam, chronicling a different type of death.

Death aside, you’ll find all human life here, including the pulse of it in Patrick McCabe’s thrumming experimental piece The Galway Spike. Caoilinn Hughes, ever mocking of the captains of 21st century commerce, sticks her very stylish oar in with I Ate it All and I Really Thought I Wouldn’t, and there’s further experimental fiction from E. M. Reapy and June Caldwell, making this a volume that covers so many styles and genres it’s a credit to its editors, Lisa Frank and Alan McMonagle. A carefully chosen and beautifully wrought collection, aptly described by Mary Costello as ‘a joy to read’. Highly recommended.

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