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My hometown, my homeland, my people

September 20, 2012 14 comments

True Believers by Joseph O’Connor 1991. French title: Les Bons Chrétiens

True Believers is a collection of thirteen short stories published by Joseph O’Connor in different newspapers and magazines. I’ve been lazy and read the French translation instead of the original; it was probably for the best since I suspect the original is full of slang. So I have no quote, unfortunately. The French translation sounds good, I think, although the translators and I don’t have the same basis of cultural references or are simply not the same age. As a consequence, there is no footnote when Pasty O’Hara is mentioned but they felt the urge to explain who Bono is. Anyway. The stories are short and it would be boring to read a long billet going through them one by one. I’d rather give you an overview of the collection.

Put it in a nutshell, this book is like an old album by Bruce Springsteen, full of stories from the working class, from everyday life. It has the same atmosphere, the same flavor. It’s a tribute to the Irish people, describing them with their joys, their failures, their flaws. It’s refreshing that not a story takes place in upper classes. They are named Johnny, Mary, Joseph, Eddie, Jimmy or Fred. They are small people who try to cope with their lives as best they can. Taxi drivers, salespersons, priests, unemployed young men. You’ll encounter people who try to make their dreams come true and some who immigrate to London to find a job. You’ll have a look at good or bad marriages, broken relationships, women cheating on their husbands, men or women leaving their partners. You’ll hear kids describe events with their unusual look at the adults’ world. You’ll meet priests who doubt and old women who don’t and rely on holy water. You’ll peep in an activist’s life and his hopeless love for a British soldier. You’ll see how hard it is to leave secretly Ireland to have an abortion on your own in London. You’ll hear about the relationship between Irish and English people, the clichés from both sides, the misunderstandings. You’ll realise how difficult it is to keep friendships alive when one is in another country, when an OH enters the picture or when some issues are left unsolved.

It’s also about Ireland just before the economic boom, before what Tana French describes in Broken Harbor.  Reading both books is an interesting take at Ireland. These short stories are written by a man who sees his fellow citizen as they are and encapsulates the atmosphere of his time. He observes and he lets us see, never judging, always kind but not blind. And he’s got a great sense of humour. I’m not saying O’Connor is as good as Joyce but there’s something of Dubliners here. I don’t think it was a conscious project since the stories were initially published separately but putting them together like this makes a picture of Dublin anyway and leaves the impression of an author who’s deeply attached to his city and very human.

Highly recommended.

PS: The cover is a pub, obviously. I have to say that in France, when there’s a pub, it’s often called Irish Pub and celebrates St Patrick’s Day. Don’t ask me why. And when you google “aller dans un pub à Lyon”, you find one named James Joyce Pub

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