New Island, €14.99
100 years after James Joyce wrote 'Dubliners', his home city has undergone massive transformation, but his primary focus was always on its people, how they interact with each other and where they're coming from. 'New Dubliners' attempts to present Dublin to the modern world, but what it portrays is, sadly, quite a negative view.
Joseph O'Connor's 'Two Little Clouds' begins as a humorous account of a meeting of two old acquaintances, one of whom is visiting from London and the other of whom returned to Ireland a number of years ago. They go for a drink, which the first man begins to regret as his companion starts unloading his problems on him. It's funny, if a little crude, but what's surprising is the visitor's hostility towards his native land at the story's close.
This sets the scene for a book that focuses on the neglect of old age, the idle middle class, hatred of foreigners and the trap of young motherhood. Bernard McLaverty's 'The Assessment' looks at the bewilderment of an ageing woman, while Colum McCann's 'As if There Were Trees' tells the tale of a young man who feels trapped by his under-privileged background.
There are moments of levity too. Clare Boylan's 'Benny Gets the Blame' takes a peek at what one boy does for fun, while Maeve Binchy's 'All That Matters' shows us a young girl determined to live her life her way, no matter what.
You can't help but notice the overall negativity of the collection though. Frank McGuinness' 'The Sunday Father' focuses on an emigrant's return to Dublin for his father's funeral and his hatred of him and towards his country. Though extremely well written, this is an unsettling story that leaves you feeling cold. The book as a whole also has this effect. It's doubtful that these stories truly encapsulate the Irish psyche. These writers may believe they do, but there's a great deal of warmth lacking here, though Joyce may have approved of 'New Dubliners' gritty realism.