The Girl Missing From The Window is often topical in its small town scenarios, yet Paul O’Reilly's collection of stories transcends topicality with style and mastery, as it delves deep into utterly convincing human stories.
O'Reilly is unflinching, if you wanted to sum up in a word the tenor of the best of his nine stories. He faces up to harsh domestic realities, while occasionally wrong-footing the reader with a kind of clinical deftness. This reviewer was well into What Rose Did before he realised that the narrator was a mother not a father - the pink nightgown was the giveaway (although anything is possible, yes).
That story begins as an innocuous slice of life, young kids and the joy they bring, all hunky dory. However, as the tale progresses, the author draws the reader into the most upsetting thing that teenagers might bring, depicting in one family the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide attributed to cyber-bullying.
This is dirty realism, 2015 style, and every permutation of horror is plausible in our country today. This is equally the case in the story The Love Drug, in which a young woman fatally overdoses at a 30th birthday party.
The title story, The Girl Missing From the Window is set in Amsterdam, its subject a young married Irishman, visiting the city for a football match with some mates. He decides to buy the services ostensibly of one of the girls in the window, but let’s say things don’t quite go to plan. The author also lures the reader with frisson and farce at the start of Guys And the Way They Might Like At You, before he pulls the rug out, mid-way through. Gently steeped in alcohol and blistered with repressed desire, the story portrays a couple who attempt to spice up their marriage by meeting a swinger couple in Cork city. Let’s say, once again, that things do not go to plan at their heartbreak hotel.
Sex is never used for gratuitous effect in O’Reilly’s masterful stories, the bathos is always close to pathos. One is brought close to delicately-nuanced conflicts, moral dilemmas subtly built into the action in this striking 150-page debut.
As in the work of his fellow Wexfordman, Billy Roche, the stories display a deep sensitivity to, and compassion for human frailty. O’Reilly doesn't deal in much comedy, beyond the black stuff, but the story Restless features the most amusing character in the collection. In the story, set late at night in a hospital, a young man attends upon his dying father, enduring the company of his overbearing uncle Tony, while they both await death which will come soon. The uncle is chewing gum. “Whenever a nurse or pregnant woman passes, his chewing gets louder, becomes a slopping sound as he scratches at the stubble of his neck.”
Such is the kind of detail, time and again in these stories which mark O’Reilly out as a great observer. The Girl Missing From The Window is often topical, yet the collection transcends topicality with style and mastery, as it delves deep into human stories. These tales would make a great book club choice.