The Girl Missing from the Window
This debut story collection from Paul O’Reilly is scattered both geographically and characteristically. The pieces are often set in Ireland beyond Dublin, and populated by a variety of social identities and dialects. They explore the lives of characters all crippled in their own way: sometimes by the death of a loved one, sometimes through a way of living. The collection’s first half centres on a striking theme of parenthood. Protagonists grapple with what it is to be a parent, a child, or – in the case of the bizarre American-set tale ‘What’s Eating Him?’ – what it is to exist outside of that dynamic. The prose is predominantly subtle, quiet. At its best, this results in lingering, arresting images of emotional corruption in which lives change forever (‘What Rose Did’; ‘Tinkers’), while elsewhere this can indicate a certain lifelessness in depicting complex psychological experiences (‘Alzheimer’s’).
However, these stories show a fine aesthetic steadiness, and O’Reilly successfully meditates on suicide, sexuality, emigration and death without us ever feeling like he’s checking off a list of ‘Irish literary themes.’ The emotional breadth of these subjects does make structuring this collection challenging, and the book struggles somewhat to attain a particular focus overall. The two lengthiest pieces, ‘What Rose Did’ and ‘Guys and the Way They Might Look at You’, indicate that a novel might be the best thing to look forward to from this promising author.
Words: Peter Morgan