Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"The Wine Breath" by John McGahern

Source: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (mp3)
Length: 39 minutes
Reader: Yiyun Li

The story: Each year, The Reading Life hosts Irish Short Story week during the week of Saint Patrick's Day. Last year, I listened to stories from two familiar Irish writers, "The Dead" by James Joyce and "My Oedipus Complex" by Frank O'Connor. This year, I'm branching out to an Irish writer I had never encountered before, John McGahern.

This story is a quiet, wistful reflection on the paths a life can take as it travels toward the inevitable death. These types of stories with almost no plot don't usually appeal to me. However, McGahern keeps the story interesting by opening new insights into the life of his main character, a priest, as the narrative jumps from the present to the priest's memories. The absence of any clear plot reinforces the seeming aimlessness of the priest's life, yet the fact that there is a plot, hidden beneath flashbacks and descriptions, hints that we can impose a meaning on our lives whether or not any true meaning exists.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Li has a noticeable Chinese accent which can make it difficult to understand individual words. Since I routinely speak with native Chinese speakers on a daily basis, I did not find the accent distracting, but others may dislike this reading. Avoiding this story for the accent alone would be unfortunate, since it's a quite good story and Li otherwise does a decent job of reading it. The conversation with fiction editor Deborah Treisman opened up new ideas for me about the story and inspired me to listen to it a second time.

(photo by bripod via flickr. Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial)


mel u said...

This sounds like a very interesting story by a new to me writer. Priests way heavily in the Irish Short Story. Thanks very much for participating for a second year.

mel u said...

Hi-just wanted to let you know that the Manchester Guardian literary podcast area has just, in honor of Mothering Day in the UK, posted stories by Colm Toibin, read his own story, and a great Elizabeth Bowen story, "Homecoming"-both are less than 20 minutes


Anonymous said...

Hi there.
Your blog is wonderful and I really like it. But if I can make any suggestions I'd recommend you to add a search engine (blogger has such widget/gadget). Because if someone wants to find a review he has to go through the whole archive to find it.

jim campanella said...

Sorry, this has nothing to do with the review of The Wine Breath, but I didn't know where else to post this request. I just wanted to suggest reviewing the new H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Mound, which is being presented in audio book form at It comes in five chapters and this week chapter three will be presented.Thanks for the consideration!

Listener said...

Anon - you should be able to search via the Navbar at the top of the page. Just type in your search term next to the little blogger icon.

Jim - thanks for the heads-up. Right now, I've just started listening to your recording of "The Mating Season", but I'll put the Lovecraft on my list.

mel u said...

Hi -just letting you know I will be once again having Irish short Story Month on my blog-March 1 to March 31 and I wanted to invite you personally to participate