Direct, unashamed, and visceral, this debut collection of short stories by Dublin author Cathy Sweeney is at once a celebration and a critique of the way we live, relate, love in modern times. A cacophony of characters cry out their discontent with the norms of a society they have unheedingly been born into or painfully outgrown: a woman takes her husband’s genitalia to work each day in a lunch box; a man falls in love with a woman with too many mouths; a crumbling palace mirrors the sickness of the kingdom over which it was built to reign.
These are stories in turn abominable and absurd, but ones in which we reluctantly see ourselves: our desires and disgust are revealed here in words describing a world spookily similar to our own. What would it feel like to have an affair? How can you boast to claim ownership over your significant other? Is sex the taboo it always used to be? Do we really grow wiser, or just older? These are questions which, in our idle moments, we might catch ourselves pondering, though we may not like the answers, especially those presented by Sweeney here.
This is uncomfortable reading. Though it may at first seem straightforward and entertaining, this is a book of clues to more complicated conversations. Conversations about money and meat and monogamy; about possession, power and pornography. Conversations to make us read again the stories we tell ourselves and one another, and the truths of how we live our lives. But there are also chatterings about love and art and tenderness and vulnerability. Like the woman with many mouths, these are stories with many faces, and all the better for it.
Words: Hannah Clarkson