Hearher Roar

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - MARTINA EVANS Martina Evans is a poet and nov­el­ist. Her lat­est book Now We Can Talk Openly About Men is pub­lished by Car­canet

Martina Evans on Cecelia Ah­ern’s new short story col­lec­tion

ROAR CECELIA AH­ERN Harper Collins, 337pp, £12.99

Al­ready on their way to screen adap­ta­tion by Ni­cole Kid­man’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, Cecelia Ah­ern’s 30 imag­i­na­tive sto­ries are mod­ern­day tales with el­e­ments of magic re­al­ism or sci­ence fic­tion. Each story marks an epiphany or mo­ment of trans­for­ma­tion for an un­named woman or “every­woman” and there is a story for ev­ery woman here.

Ah­ern has a dis­arm­ingly down-to-earth em­pa­thy and is at her sharpest and fun­ni­est when char­ac­ters have their backs to the wall, as in one of the strong­est tales, The Woman Who Was Swal­lowed Up By the Floor and Who Met Lots of Other Women Down There Too. This woman is so ter­ri­fied of her boss, she shakes un­con­trol­lably and farts while giv­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at work. Then, “A beau­ti­ful invit­ing black hole opens up be­tween her and the board­room ta­ble”. Down in the magical re­al­ist black hole, she meets a se­lec­tion of women all guilty of ac­tions from which they feel there is no re­turn. For this woman and ev­ery other in the book the end comes with an ac­knowl­edg­ment of her true sit­u­a­tion which en­ables her to move for­ward.

The woman in The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin copes with work and three chil­dren. “She had packed and repacked her work tote the pre­vi­ous night like an anx­ious child be­fore her first day of school, and still, de­spite the end­less plan­ning, the think­ing and re­think­ing, the freshly puréed food in pots . . .” she can’t sleep. Then the mys­te­ri­ous bites ap­pear with in­creas­ing fe­roc­ity and “Three weeks later, she was un­recog­nis­able. The marks had spread to her face; there was bruis­ing on her cheeks and chin, and the tips of her ears looked as though they’d been nib­bled”. The story ends when the woman is hos­pi­talised and re­alises that the an­gry bite marks are caused by guilt. Can such fierce guilt be eas­ily dis­missed?

Ray­mond Carver fa­mously said, “What good is in­sight, it only makes things worse?” There is al­ways the sec­ond mo­ment of truth when a woman stands up to a man only to re­alise her trou­bles are just be­gin­ning. I en­joyed The Women Who Was Kept On A Shelf but wanted to know how the con­trol­ling hus­band coped when she left the shelf at the end of the story. Hell hath no fury like the man who kept her there for 20 years. I’d love to see Ah­ern ex­plor­ing what hap­pens next be­cause hard times and hu­mour are her forte.

These sto­ries, of course, are only the be­gin­ning of Roar which will con­tinue to de­velop on the screen. There is much to de­velop here as the story col­lec­tion teems with ideas. The Women Who Wore Pink lives in a dystopian world where gen­der is po­liced fiercely. Men wear blue and women wear pink and are forced to iden­tify them­selves as “pe­nis” and “vagina” – this is a funny story with a light touch al­though the quick so­lu­tion of the happy end­ing was dis­ap­point­ing for me.

Most women here are very well-heeled. They carry brief­cases and wear suits. An el­e­gantly suited lisp­ing fairy god­mother in The Woman Who Or­dered the Se­abass Spe­cial gives courage to a lisp­ing wait­ress while ap­ply­ing ex­pen­sive hand cream. The Women Who Slowly Dis­ap­peared is flown to South Africa as a spe­cial case to see a woman con­sul­tant who spe­cialises in un­seen mid­dle-aged women.

But fairy tales have al­ways starred queens and princesses liv­ing in cas­tles even when their au­di­ence and nar­ra­tors lived in mid­dens and ate out of com­mu­nal pots.

Gor­geous­ness can be trans­port­ing like the fab­u­lous glit­ter­ing sets of the screw­ball movies which thrilled the thread­bare De­pres­sion-era au­di­ences. In­deed fly­ing women (one of whom fea­tures in Roar) and witches abound in cul­tures where women have been most op­pressed.

Just a lit­tle more hard­ship and dif­fi­culty be­fore the happy end­ing could al­low Ah­ern’s brave women to soar (and roar) higher.

Cecelia Ah­ern: at her sharpest and fun­ni­est when char­ac­ters have their backs to the wall

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