Hard to believe that Val Mulkerns published her first novel in 1951. For this writer, in any case, as the niece in the background struggling with a first tome, she is an inspiration: this is her tenth, sixty-five years later.
In between came two more novels, three short story collections, two children’s books and many thousands of words of journalistic work, as she became a columnist for a national newspaper in the seventies.
Standing at the podium in The Irish Writers’ Centre on Thursday night, she read an extract from the first story in the collection, “Special Category”, inspired by her father, Jimmy Mulkerns, who had been imprisoned in Frongoch prison camp (via Knutsford Jail) in 1916 following his participation in the Battle of the Four Courts.
As the kick-start to Memory and Desire” it certainly pulls the reader in. Stories then follow in chronological fashion, actually drawing a rough line through most of Ireland in the twentieth century – from the birth of the nation through its massive changes in the sixties and seventies and then into the late eighties: an Ireland struggling between the disillusion of recession and emergence into a post-colonial identity. The final, also the title story, has been described by Colm Tóibín as, “one of the finest short stories to have been published in Ireland for many years.”
While Val Mulkerns already has another book on the way – a memoir – it’s a great treat to see this new selection of her short stories available this year ahead of it: for me, it was a wonderful re-introduction to her work, especially the short stories for which she is so renowned, and as it turns out, in my own case, put them between new covers with 451 Editions so that they can be read by others. With its beautiful cover painting by Louise Newman, the book strikes a pose in bookshops, and presents a recurring theme in the collection: the sea.
The launch of “Memory and Desire”, which included fellow authors, literary friends and family as well as others drawn by the new title, was a splendid success. Professor Ronan Conroy gave the best of introductions: smart, witty and full of warmth, and the reading was delivered by the author herself with perfect pitch and timing, drawing in the audience until they hung on every word.
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