Out: September 14, 2021
This anthology contains fourteen previously published pieces by prominent Irish authors, including: Joyce, Yeats, and Colm Tóibín. It’s mostly short fiction, but there are a few poems as well as a couple of excerpts from longer works. All the pieces are set around (or reference) Christmas, but the degree to which that plays into the story varies a great deal. The anthology is very Irish, but not always very Christmassy. Meaning, if you’re expecting a collection of pieces like Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” where the joy or melancholy of the season is front-and-center throughout and the holiday, itself, is a pivotal story element, you won’t find that in a number of these selections. Often, the season is just an element of ambiance or of short-lived emotional resonance.
That said, the selections are all artfully written and each is intriguing in its own way. In the case of Joyce’s “The Dead” the appeal is the evocative language and creation of setting (though the piece does have more explicit story than, say, “Ulysses.”) Whereas, for pieces like Keegan’s “Men and Women” or Trevor’s “Christmas Eve” the point of interest might be the story, itself. Besides the Irish author / Christmas reference nexus, the included works cover a wide territory including contemporary works (keeping in mind the authors are mostly from the 20th century) and those that hearken back to days of yore. Some are secular; while others are explicitly Catholic.
I enjoyed this anthology, finding it to be a fine selection of masterfully composed writings.
When Tony Hawks and his friend Kevin see a man hitching with a refrigerator one night, a debate ensues that results in a ₤100 bet that Hawks can circumnavigate Ireland entirely by hitching rides–while carting a fridge with him. (When Kevin insists that no one could get a lift with a fridge, Hawk’s response sets the book’s tone and theme, “They could in Ireland, it’s a magical place.”) Showing a lack of business acumen, Hawks purchases a compact dorm fridge for ₤130, and sets off from Dublin in a counterclockwise fashion. The rules of the bet stipulate that Hawks must visit Tory island at the extreme north and Clear Island at the extreme south but otherwise can use whatever route he likes as long as he gets around only by hitchhiking, he keeps the fridge with him during his travels, and it takes him less than a month. Hilarity ensues.
Hawks’ book is a hoot. If there is anything that he makes funnier than a person questioning his intelligence / sanity for carting a fridge about, it’s his description of the people who politely ignore the absurdity of him hitching with a fridge. There’s also a fair amount of sour grapes humor as sometimes it seems the fridge has gained more of a celebrity status than the author. Of course, not all the humor is fridge-centric; some of it takes place in pubs with the people the gregarious Hawks meets along the way. The book mixes travelogue with humor writing, and nicely captures both the scenery of Ireland and the national character of the Irish. The book also has its serious moments, particularly as it draws to a close and the author realizes his adventure is at an ends.
In the end, Hawks proves that it can be done—in theory, at least. It should be pointed out that Hawks had the benefit of appearing on a national radio show regularly as well as on TV at the start and finish of his trip. Because of this, people were often on the lookout for him and likely more willing to give him a lift than if he were the average schlub. On the other hand, the need to meet scheduled appointments with media is one of the sources of tension in the book because they usually involve close calls. It seems it’s not always easy to call in from remote locations in rural Ireland while on the move, and the best example may be Hawks’ attempt to make it to Dublin on the last day to meet a PR event that a radio show had set up. He puts the reader on the edge of his seat, despite the lack of any real peril (it is just a guy trying to make media events related to his absurd adventure, after all.)
I’d highly recommend this book. If you’re interested in traveling in Ireland, it’s a light read to give you some ideas about places you might want to hit (or miss.) However, on its humor alone it’s worth a read even for readers who don’t normally read travel writing.