Ireland is one hundred years old and to commemorate the centenary of Easter Rising 1916 Michelle Jackson has written a collection of short stories reflecting real women's lives through the decades. Starting in 1916, she takes different characters through the fifties and mass emigration, the troubles of the seventies and the decadence of the new millennium. This collection of eight short stories about Irish women is for any one with an interest in Ireland.
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I'm a huge fan of everything Michelle Jackson has written as she brings her background as a travel writer to life in the books she writes setting them in some lovely foreign locations. But I'll readily admit I'm not the biggest fan of collections of short stories or short stories in general as I find I tend to read them far too fast. I find by the time I have gotten to the end of the collection I have forgotten what the first few stories were about. The same goes for novels released in parts as serials, I'd much rather wait for the full edition to be published rather than being teased by a release in dribs and drabs. But when Sharon was contacted by Michelle regarding her Tales of a Century short story collection I really did want to give them a try. To be honest the whole idea is quite clever eight stories beginning in 1916 and ending in 2016. This couldn't be more apt considering the Easter 1916 celebrations here in Ireland coming to a head this coming Easter weekend. The stories begin with 1916 and then proceed to 1957, 1969, 1974,1985,1999, 2006 and finally 2016. Combined the stories chart significant events in Irish history over the past 100 years which left a mark on the Irish people. Little did the brave men fighting for independence in 1916 realise the chain of events they had set in motion all those years ago. Nor could they contemplate all the changes and innovations our small island would witness.
This really is the quickest of reads and truthfully some of the stories left me distinctly underwhelmed and with a longing for more, a whole lot more. Some were over before they got going and just never seemed to go anywhere. With the traditional short story you always get a twist at the end and you are left with a smile on your face as you contemplate the fact the wool had been pulled over your eyes. I didn't get that sense here although when the connection between the first and last story was revealed it was quite bitter sweet and memorable. I could see what the author was trying to achieve with this collection and in parts she did pull it off but overall the feeling of wanting more dominated for me.
Reading through the stories it did spark memories of important events in Irish history over the past 100 years but it also struck me how the mindset of the people and the ways and customs have changed dramatically. In the story entitled Queens set in 1957, two young sisters from a rural farming background leave Ireland for the bright lights of New York City. Róisin is the elder of the two and wants to keep Ita under her wing but Ita is young and anxious to experience all her new life has to offer even if a surprise from home makes its intentions known. It's sad to think there are still hundreds of young people emigrating today. That nothing has changed and employment is as bad as ever thanks to the actions of men like Colin Doyle (and our government at the time) as highlighted in the story The Celtic Tiger's Roar. This was the story that I felt could have been left out and instead the theme could have been mentioned with one or two lines in a different story.
I think the story that hit me most was Rebel Rebel set in 1970's Dublin following a family recently moved from the North. They are slowly settling into their new lives and learning not to live in fear and anguish. The insight given into life in the North was excellent and now that we are living in peaceful times here in the Republic it's all too easy to forget what happened in the North. As a catholic family the characters in question in this story were hounded and excluded for their religion. One character summed up the entire conflict very aptly 'What's the point of blowing up ordinary decent people going about their business for no reason other than the church they go to?' I read this story with an increasing sense of dread and foreboding as to what I thought may happen. Perhaps my favourite story was Victoria and the Bread Boy set in 1916, the history addict in me was coming out and I felt Michelle nailed the time and setting perfectly offering an insight into a Dublin long gone but kept alive through the written word. In my mind this story would be brilliant as a full length novel if the author ever wished to turn her hand to historical fiction.
Overall as I have said Tales of a Century is a quick, easy read. The author has done her little bit to pay homage to Ireland over the past 100 years. Some stories were surplus to requirements and perhaps best left aside whereas others shone through. So much so you were crying out for more, for a full length book or just a slightly longer short story. The twist/connection came too late for me even if it did make me go ahh. I appreciate what the author has done here but sadly I was ultimately left with a feeling of dissatisfaction. Irish readers will understand and 'get' the themes of the stories. I'm not so sure other fans of Michelle's work will comprehend all the things in the stories that made Ireland what it is today. All that aside I'm still looking forward to the next full length book from Michelle.
Many thanks to Michelle Jackson for a copy of Tales of a Century to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog