Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: This Cruel Station

This Cruel Station. Martin Malone. Short Stories. Published by Doire Press.

A book of good short stories is like an Easter egg, writes Brian Byrne. Break it open and eat a piece, and it becomes difficult not to eat more until you finish it all, even if you had absolutely planned to leave the rest for later.

So it is with this new collection from Kildare writer Martin Malone. I had intended dipping in and out over maybe a week. But like with the pieces of chocolate, I couldn't stop nibbling.

Those familiar with this author's work will know that he doesn't write succulent milk chocolate. More the high-quality dark stuff, where there's a strong under-taste of bitterness that both complements and contrasts the chocolate flavour.

The short pieces here are unrelated. But they all probe at human matters and situations more than making big statements. I'm not going to go into details of any of them, but every reader will likely have had personal experience directly or indirectly with at least some of the themes explored.

The stories also reflect real life in that mostly there's not an end at the end. Just like life, there's a future beyond the episode, with its unknowns which may or may not become sequels. One of the nice things about writing short stories is that you don't have to go beyond the now at the final full stop.

In this collection there are echoes of the author's home places and life, and also of the work he has been involved in far beyond Kildare town, recalling his peacekeeping times in the Middle East. He has done what every writer is urged to do, write what you know, from your own experience, or what you see happening around you. But it takes a further experience to learn how to actually do that, and then move to the next level. In this collection — added to his previous seven novels, short story collections and playwriting — we can see clearly just how much Martin Malone continues to mature as a writer.

Staying with the Easter egg theme, there is an extra piece of interest in the book, as with the samples of whatever chocolate bars under which the modern eggs are marketed. A longer story, a novella, extends and concludes the collection. Its proposition is right up to date, linking Ireland's efforts on refugee resettlement with the author's first hand knowledge of conditions in Libya and neighbouring countries — and most of all, of the people involved. In this one the reader is gently led in, then shocked by the successive lobbing of unanticipated narrative grenades.

This collection relies heavily on the author's excellent ear for conversation, and how he has learned to transcribe that into a vehicle for narrative which is both interesting and believable. At first sip, sections of dialogue might read a tad haphazard, even disjointed. But then, like tastings of interesting but not expensive wine on the palate, they rise beyond the price. And everything suddenly becomes just right.

Wine and chocolate, especially dark chocolate, will always do it for me.

(The Kildare launch of 'This Cruel Station' will be in the Kildare Town Library on Thursday 22 June, at 7pm.)