Bernard MacLaverty

PART THREE – CONTINUED FROM HERE: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/


My previous reviews of this author’s BLANK PAGES are shown HERE

My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

When I read these collected stories my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

25 responses to “*


    “– women shoppers, men with children on their shoulders, young fellows elbowing each other for a better position. […] I edged forward and was forced to stand on tiptoe.”

    This is a strange concoction of Angela Carter and Walter de La Mare and I don’t know what! A unique fiction that has poignancy as swords, elbows and toes. A puppet akimbo? No, a man who swallows swords on the streets with a young busker who plays on a vibrato saw like a violin. The sword swallower, naïve and with his own hopes based on the freak of having no thrapple, in contrast to the thrapple-slow swallowing in EELS earlier in this review, a man surreptitiously hung on transvestism and is here persuaded by the story’s protagonist to perform at a boozy university club where the audience is all male, an event that …well, no spoilers here; it is a story, though, that has a taped interview as an appendix, one that is telegraphed from earlier in the story, a device that somehow adeptly increases the poignancy…
    Touching eccentrically the vulnerable vitals within?

    “There was no physical way he could have swallowed that last sword – it would have had to come out of his toes.”

    “…elbowed his way into the middle and extended his hat to begin collecting.”

    “He sat down again and began to finger his toes.”

    “Throughout the subject was barefoot and fiddled continually with his toes.”

    Matisse and Chagall, eat your hearts out!


    “She stood dressed in her outdoor clothes on tiptoe at the bedroom window.”

    Truncated tranche of life, on a sparsely populated island, and a woman who got a lift to go shopping with a bird-watcher and then to get home with the post van. What she said in our hearing told us much about her backstory. The ease of coldly re-emoting….


    “She played with verve, her elbows high, her body moving to the tempo of the music.”

    “He toed off his shoes and flexed his feet. Slip-on shoes were the boon of his old age.”

    A old man almost as a voyeur watching a young woman, all cigarettes and thighs and pulled-down skimpiness for modesty, she a flautist, till she got cold sores on her lips. He an erstwhile cornet player in a police band…
    This is a story of poignant rapprochements and people, out if their depth, signally self harm across the wrists, just as he had seen someone take a razor to his balls, a symphony of emotions that I can only convert by an unforgivable amount of quotes that fit my own literary stalking of this story, if not of the writer himself!

    “There was also a little windmill with a doll figure of a man in a red waistcoat supposedly turning the handle every time the wind blew.”

    “The bigger the feet the easier the birth.”

    “‘It’s just a different way of tying knots,’ she said. ‘That’s all knitting is when you come to think of it.’”
    Knots as Ligotti?

    “‘I used to play in a band,’ he said. ‘We had the best of crack. The paradiddles and the flam-paradiddles.’”

    “‘I play music for the music,’ Una said, ‘but I can never play it well enough to please myself.’”

    “Mrs O’Hagan’s hands still zigzagged around her half-made doily.”

    “It gave him as much pleasure to watch her ironing as it did to see her half-dressed.”

    “He tried to toe off his shoes but without socks the soles of his feet had stuck.”

    “Her Dr Scholls stood hen-toed beneath it.”

    “He remembered her at the window with her elbows high and the mellow flute sounds coming across to his room.”

    “The floor seesawed beneath him and he had to hold on to the armchair.”

    Till I found my own old metaphorical cornet …and eliciting a fart.

    A masterpiece of a story that shall ever haunt me.


    The next section of this book is WALKING THE DOG that I shall read in full, and review below, although not all of its stories are included in this overall collection.


    “He was exercising the dog – not himself.”

    …on the precarious snow ice or snow melt, with a leashed Dog as a strange version objective-correlative for God, which, miracle of miracles, is in obliviously mutual synergy with my own ‘The Raw Brain’ that I happened by chance, before reading this MacLaverty, to link here yesterday after many years!
    And this MacLaverty story is an eventual encounter with a car quiz, more brutal, more political, more religious, regarding whether he is a Catholic or Protestant in the days of the Troubles, whether he is an IRA Provo or not. A car quiz also that, miracle of miracles, is in obliviously mutual synergy with Gerard McKeown’s ‘The Quizmaster’ here, first read a week or two ago!


    Just watched myself, cell by cell, being tricked that I had accidentally missed reading the first story snippet in the ‘Walking the Dog’ book, i.e. the story that I now discover preceded the previous one above, but now I have real-time reviewed it, at least in my own mind, by now leaving its title here: ON THE ART OF THE SHORT STORY. The Voyeur’, meantime, is a vignette of a panting jogger (not a dog walker) who sought the precisely poised pickings of the night through uncurtained windows. So, even in broad daylight, is he watching me writing this about him?


    Who could have thought of a plot like this? Only this author! A mother and her boyish looking 13 year old daughter, on a Spanish holiday, the mother (separated from her husband, the girl’s father) combating severe sunburn and her daughter’s sometimes uncouth independence and precociousness, the girl smoking and going to discos, and taking part in demonstration chess (taught to her originally by her father) in a twelvefold circle with the central ‘grandmaster’, an older man… and what happens is not exactly cricket, nor angled as a rhombus of emotions: absent father, mother, daughter, the author as grandmaster — but it does end in some sort of declared draw or balance between four plot movements in a sound symphony punctuated by the rubbing of crickets’ elbows…

    “‘Jesus – Mum.’ Gillian was aghast, laughing. She sat up, her elbow on her pillow..”

    “Gillian elbowed her haunch but her mother paid no attention – she was staring at the Grandmaster.”

    “…staring down at the board between her elbows.”


    “The flange and the barrel had somehow become detached and the whole ensemble was liable to flood the breast pocket of his summer linen jacket at any minute.”

    I fully empathise with that! On a current bodily level!
    This is a brief fable on the finite …. that even the best of writing sadly has to stop one day.


    “‘Sounds like an army. Tip-toeing. Backwards.’”

    A Catholic Boarding School football pitch buts on to prison grounds where an ill-bred Protestant B Special guard starts half-intimidating, half-grooming a 17 year old boy playing football who is planning to be a priest, and they discuss sex and religion….
    Not sure what to say about this, so I will say nothing.

  9. A42FB66D-F2F8-4D4D-B096-BAFDB2CDF2C4


    A vignette of a man becoming more and more conscious of his ill-fitting tongue. But what has this to do with a seemingly unmilled Einstein coin and what I imagine to be ‘tongue & groove’ structural joints or cladding surrounding the window he looks out of?

  10. BY TRAIN

    This vignette is miraculously the apotheosis of the Walter de la Mare by-chance from train carriage corner conversations enfolded within each other. An ominous lethality, and this was clinched when I saw Crewe mentioned in it.


    “‘Do you want to go up and see him?’
    Dermot set his jaw and said, ‘I’d prefer to remember him as he was.’”

    ….which in the context is ironic as well as intrinsically poignant. A sweary drunk Catholic in the times between the rock and the twist, lying dead in his coffin, and the people opposite, Dermot their main representative at the wake, Protestant. Dermot as Duty, visits twice, to clinch some unseen woke deal with God?
    Again, ironic and poignant….the two houses opposite arch other…

    “Their house and the Blairs’ were exactly the same – mirror images of each other.”


    A surprising strip search of his cardboard tube in an airport conducted by a young woman that may well elicit a scream from the old man whose it was.

  13. IN BED

    A bed-bound 21 year old girl long since seriously injured, looked after by her mother amidst the logistics of fending off cat fleas. We learn of the papier mâché universe hanging above that she had created, as if such specks were hopes that could jump that far however much you hated them? In Bed: bi-end. Torn between Creator and Creation?


A chap with all manner of skills like mathy-matics and farming, sounds Irish to me, because he was also a genius at origami and packaging! Arseholes from pigs to bundle pencils, not the least of them…
    Puts the next story below in a new perspective or context, somehow explaining why such a great horror story for horror genre fans has gone unnoticed and was omitted from the author’s Collected Stories! Packafkaging in hindsight?


    I gather that ‘your man’ in these italicised intervals is ‘yours truly’, here a court case where a broadcast story by yours truly containing the F word is just as liable under the law as a ginger beer with a rogue snail in it. The author liable rather than the vehicle broadcaster, then the BBC.
    Facebook or Twitter also platforms rather than publishers? A whole fucking minefield, now.


Playing tunes within an old stopped clock with a hat-pin, having a hard-on during Confession, only two of the many crammed things I recall from this stopped clock of time. Of a time I remember when Johnny Ray was in the hit parade and you could tell much about the football pools from just listening to the announcer’s intonations when reading the results, but I found much beyond me about these two boys’ life, particularly the religion, these being sons of parents off to France on pilgrimaged to Lourdes, was it? Boys staying with their grandparents. And hair growing in places upon a girl’s body where one might not expect it, when one of the brothers is imagining a dead body being washed by a nurse, thus the hard-on amidst the rosary beads. Unless I, an old man, too, got muddled. We all get our due deserts in the end. Whether we deserve them or not. The compensations of either prayer or non-prayer. And Granda’s bakelite wi-fi ear-piece… Which brings me back to the hat-pin or a crystal-set’s whisker, I guess. (The latter was not mentioned in the story; it was crammed enough.)


Your man, again, someone who I assume to be the famous living author writing this work, and I had to chuckle at his charity work consisting of a recipe for hard boiled eggs and at his signing off as Samuel Beckett. I can now see the resemblance. See my review of his short prose: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/the-complete-samuel-beckett-short-prose/


    “The nurse closed the door. Paddy gave a groan and heaved himself onto his elbow.”

    A relationship, with backstory, between a young man, Ben, a teacher, and Paddy, a sweary old man — and the former is collusive over smuggled whiskey when the old man, a sort of illicit father to the younger, is in hospital with terminal cancer, terminal in fits and starts, though a dead man said to be in his dressing-gown pocket seemed significant somehow..
    Mapped with operation scars and iodine, sleek half bottles as bespoke illicit drink that can be hidden more easily, and the wise saws and homilies of Irish talk…
    Eventually the inevitable later happened via seaside hospice, I guess…

    “Ben rested his elbows on his knees and stared down at the terrazzo floor.”
    In media res stuff of further visits and hopes and collusion and basic friendship.
    “Then he left on tip toe.”

    You know what happens, from that last bit. So poignantly done. Needs reading, and my collusion with you regarding the plot pickings are wise saws accumulating to an even wiser gestalt.
    Ben remembers…
    “A hospital in winter brightening itself with bowls of blue and pink hyacinths – a kind of hypocrisy, the stink of them everywhere. His mother crying, telling them all to be brave.”

    “I liked the kid who thought wind was made by the trees waving.”


    Your man, looking out for piles of bags of rubbish being dumped illicitly outside and a need to issue a look out for rats, and he agonises over the wording, even punctuation, of a hopefully preventive poster he tapes to the lamp-post around which the bags sit… words themselves are often like vermin as verbiage… I should know looking back….best kept in than out.

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