The China Factory

by Mary Costello

These stories take a walk on the dark side and are set in the west of Ireland against farming backgrounds or in Dublin amongst trapped suburbanites, many stories involving teachers. Mostly these characters are stuck with the consequenes of their
emotional wrong turnings.

I know that I am cornered too, and I will remain, because I cannot unlove him. is the devastating last line of Things I see, a story about the emotional self-entrapment of the over loyal.. Characters invariably seek solace or inspiration by looking out windows. As in The Astral Plane a woman with her husband on holiday in Clare:-

She got up and went to the window. Soon the moon would rise. There were rose bushes and fuchsias in the borders. There was no tree for miles around. Sometimes on their drives they came upon a lone bush on the roadside and she was stirred by its stark beauty, its forlorness.

Or the married male teacher in Sleeping with a Stranger not connected much with his wife but when visiting his mother recalls a one night stand in a Dublin hotel with a younger woman after a teacher’s conference in Maynooth:-

He did not know his way out of the city. He stopped and sat in a cafe under harsh lights and stared at his reflection in the plate – glass window.

In The Insomniac, a man with a wife and two children asleep, leaves his quiet home and prowls the city at night and comes close to danger. Solitary people stranded after emotional wrong turnings and trapped mainly in middle class housing estates. Raymond Carver and Edward Hopper hover over these stories.

The collection is slightly let down by the title story which starts promisingly but is then resolved by a clumsy deus ex machina in which a mentally deranged character enters from nowhere spouting a gibberish which ends with a few phrases from Ballerina a song on Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks.’ The nondescript cover also doesn’t help. These blemishes don’t derail the collection and though there are some other stories that try to pack in too much, there is however one perfect piece; where pace, character, restraint, emotion all exquisitely combine:- This Falling Sickness. Again a story about coming to terms with delayed berevement, in this instance two berevements, a child and a husband; both accidental and both happening at a distance from Ruth, the subject of the story and not being able to intervene to prevent these falling accidents. This story is simply a masterpiece. A very fine unshowy writer.

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