The Guardian Short Story podcast (mp3)
Length: 35 min
Reader: Helen Dunmore
The story: Happy Saint Patrick's Day! As part of my participation in Irish Short Stories Week, I'm reviewing what is probably Frank O'Connor's most famous story. This story is partially based on O'Connor's own life growing up in Cork, Ireland as an only child with an alcoholic father and a mother who he idolized.
The story is narrated by a young boy, who having lived with only his mother for years, now has a competitor for his mother's affection. His father has returned home after serving in the army for the duration of Word War I, much to his son's disappointment. The childish perspective gives rise to delicious ironies such as the boy, on being displaced from the center of his mother's world, stating that he had never known anyone as self-centered as his father. O'Connor's masterful use of the point-of-view is what keeps this story from becoming overtly sentimental and makes it instead so charming.
Rating: 8 / 10
The reader: Helen Dunmore, an accomplished author herself, reads this story wonderfully. She mimics a child's voice from confident selfishness to petulant whine without slipping into the kiddie pitfalls of playing a child's part. She's helped by the great rhythms of the text, which echoes the patter of a precocious child. This, for me, is a great pleasure of listening to a work of literature: that the sounds of the words and sentences open up new perspectives on the work that wouldn't be gained by silently reading the text itself.
(photo from the George Eastman House Collection via flickr. No copyright restrictions.)