Nuala Ní Chonchúir‘s second collection of short fiction To The World of Men, Welcome, despite what the title might otherwise suggest, presents a world of dualities. While the nineteen stories presented within the recently released updated edition provide a window into the world of men, it is, perhaps, more accurate to say the collection describes the space in the Venn diagram where the world of men meets the world of women.This duality, the world of men conflicting/engaging with the world of women, suffuses the stories.
No surprise then that this is a book about love and loss and while some of that loss is caused by the cruel actions of men in stories such as The Trip and Foal, that is balanced by the positive representations of men in stories like From Life and Isa and Clovis. Most of the stories focus on a pair of characters, most often a man and a woman, in the case of the title story a woman and two men, while many of the stories feature multiple viewpoints, most notably From Life, Foal and Asylum with their dual narratives that switch focus from one character to another swapping genders or even, in the case of Foal, swapping species. This variation in point of view is a particular strength of the collection, each story’s distinctive feel a direct result of Chonchúir’s ability to craft a clear vision of each character through controlled use of narrative voice.
Another particularly enjoyable aspect of this collection is the sweep of various stories. Chonchúir takes the reader from the domestic world of broken marriages, to the conflicts of Chechnya, showing us stories through the eyes of men and women at the beginnings and the ends of love, stories through the eyes of children powerless in the face of events and people that might hurt them, stories from the point of view of deceased characters. Whether the story is told in the voice of a child (Toys), in the voice of Virginia Woolf as she approaches her tragic end (The Ouse’s Call), or even, in the case of Foal, from the compelling viewpoint of a mare desperately pursuing her stolen foal, nothing seems beyond Chonchúir’s never less than ambitious grasp.
To The World of Men, Welcome corals a host of narrative styles and perspectives that never fail to convince, while, remarkably, each story builds on the one before to build a sense of cohesion in the midst of its variety. The thematic links that pervade the stories create a sense of wholeness that only really becomes clear on reading the final page. It is rare to come across a collection that impresses from first page to last as this one does. Indeed last year, in my review of Nude, Chonchúir’s third collection, I described how some of the stories had failed to engage me. While such a statement probably says as much about the reader as it does about the author or collection, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading story after story in the pages of To The World of Men, Welcome that moved me, excited me or intrigued me. Anyone with an interest in short fiction should seek out a copy. They will find a lot to like and, I daresay, much to love.
My Top Three Stories:
Stitching Time: While I myself have never knitted, I obviously have a subconscious thing for stories about knitting. My favourite Amy Hempel story is Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep and I loved this story of absence and the things we use to fill the gaps in our lives. Of course, both this story and Hempel’s, like all great short fiction, are about something more than what’s on the surface. A lovely ending here.
Foal: I’m not a big fan of stories from an animal’s perspective but Foal’s energy and sense of drama pulled me in despite myself, had me believing in and rooting for the mare as she struggles to find her foal.
Isa and Clovis: A tender love story, by turns sad and beautiful. A great example of showing character rather than telling, the grief and love here is conveyed through deft use of setting and character, and it is refreshing to read such a positive male character in Clovis.