November 16, 2007
Walk The Blue Fields
Faber & Faber
paper, 160 pages
One of those who caught my ear at the 2007 Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival was Irish author Claire Keegan. Claire read at several Festival events including Grand Openings on October 17th. It was mesmerizing. She has a wonderful reading voice, but it was the prose itself which stood out: lovely language free of cliché and not an ounce of excess in her sentences, the story advanced with a confidence and skill that is all too rare. She read the opening section from “The Forester’s Daughter,” one of seven stories in Walk The Blue Fields, her second collection of short fiction. I bought the book and had her sign it after the reading; I can recommend it highly.
Here’s one excerpt from “The Forester’s Daughter” to illustrate. Martha has bought some roses from a salesman, “a big blade of a man with a thick moustache,” who’d stopped by the farmhouse while her husband Deegan was away. When Deegan learns what she’s spent his money on, he rages, calling her a fool. Watch how Keegan, in just over a paragraph, sweeps the narrative forward without a single false note, taking the reader with her:
That summer her roses bloomed scarlet but long before the wind could blow their heads asunder, Martha realised she had made a mistake. All she had was a husband who hardly spoke now that he’d married her, an empty house and no income of her own. She had married a man she did not love. What had she expected? She had expected it would grow and deepen into love. And now she craved intimacy and the type of conversation that would surpass misunderstanding. She thought of finding a job but it was too late: a child was near ready for the cradle.
The children Martha bore she reared casually, never threatening them with anything sharper than a wooden spoon. When her first-born was placed in her arms her laughter was like a pheasant rising out of the bushes. The boy, a shrill young fellow, grew tall but it soon became apparent that he had no grá for farming; […]
How wonderfully confident it feels! The roses blooming and blown asunder in a single sentence and there we have the summer summarized. At the end of the paragraph and the summer a child is anticipated, and two words into the subsequent paragraph the child is children; another pair of sentences and each child is distinct, with different genders and individual characteristics and then they are grown themselves.
The story is a compact marvel, and there are others in the collection that feel just as assured. The book is not without a few missteps: later in “The Forester’s Daughter” we are abruptly inside the thoughts of a dog who has been adopted by the family: it jars to have this sudden shift of point of view. But by and large these stories are among the best I’ve read in ages. A writer to watch—and read—with pleasure.