NO MORE HEROES ANYMORE
Ah, Irish fiction, what would you do with it. So beautiful, so lyrical. As a reader it has given me a lot of joy, a lot of thinking about a lot of things and being a reader matters a lot to me. I write, yeh sure, feel I have to and feel I want to. But I read as a matter of being, as a way of negotiating the days. And Irish fiction, yeh, lots of it. Yet. Yet, over the years, I realise that in the last ten to fifteen years if I’m reaching out for a book I’ll pick up a North American novelist or a European over an Irish one. I see the Irish ones and I just think, erm, all that loveliness, all that, I don’t know, Irishness. Do I want that? I can think of a few exceptions, of course, like Gerard Donovan’s Julius Winsome or Eoin McNamee’s The Ultras but their dark enchantments were just that, the exceptions. Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn &Child is there too, standing way out on its own, which is quite fitting as it was the one book that came to mind reading these stories by Aiden O’Reilly. Not because it directly reminded me of that work but because I was trying to think of comparisons and could only come up with Keith Ridgway in terms of it being fairly incomparable with most other Irish fiction I’ve come across. In fact at times it reminded of writers like D. W. Wilson or the great Breece D’J Pancake before veering off into a territory all of its own.
Who O’Reilly’s influences are is anyone’s guess, though I can see why Mike McCormack would offer a blurb, not only because the book itself is refreshingly free of authorial information and guff, remember those days when it was just the work you were enjoying and the writer’s ‘profile’ wasn’t getting in the way, but because these really memorable stories strike out in directions all of their own. In fact one author that did come to mind more than once when reading these stories was J.G.Ballard. That is not because O’Reilly wanders off into sci-fi territory or suddenly puts central Dublin under water or covers it in tropical sand but because these stories have the knack of pushing you off-kilter so that you end up seeing more clearly. His tales of men adrift, of people stuck in shitty jobs in a world full of migrants and people from somewhere else, of drink and bewilderment and cold, icy entrepreneurism is actually how most of us experience the world. Whereas most Irish fiction is like travelling in a plush car where you marvel at the landscape, Aiden O’Reilly’s is like travelling on public transport with students and immigrants, like feeling you are actually in the country. Whether that country is Ireland, Poland or some part of Eastern Europe depends on which story you read but the dislocation at the heart of his work, the quiet, unfocused anger of many of the characters, is so powerful and so skilfully done that for days afterwards I really felt like I was seeing things differently, as if I’d been granted another way of looking at the country around me. And that’s some achievement isn’t it?
The stories themselves are hard to describe, whether it be the clumsy sexuality of an indeterminate place in A Fine Noble Corpse, the harsh existence of Contempt or the strange, enigmatic truth of the title story, Greetings, Hero. Many of these stories, in fact, with their aimless, slightly bewildered, angry, misplaced young men often felt to me like vague memories and that feeling of being in a memory is something only very good fiction is able to invoke. The young boy in Stripped Bare who concludes that ‘those who will not yield to pretence must learn to endure an eternity of cold’ reflects much of the brave exposition in this work. Swapping between Ireland and eastern Europe this really is a most welcome voice for those readers who care about Irish fiction. In the story Laundry Key Complex one character asks of another, ‘where did he get himself from?’ It is the kind of odd, slightly askew question that could sum up this really quite wonderful book. With this often coruscating, humane, idiosyncratic, yet perfectly accessible work Aiden O’Reilly has marked out a territory all of his own. Purely as a reader, I really hope we see a lot more of him.