Telling Truths

Evelyn Conlon and the Task of Writing

by Teresa Caneda (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XIV, 214 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 117


Evelyn Conlon is one of Ireland’s most important writers. She has published four collections of short stories, My Head is Opening (1987), Taking Scarlet as a Real Colour (1993), Telling: New and Selected Short Stories (2000) and Moving about the Place (2021) and four novels, Stars in the Daytime (1989), A Glassful of Letters (1998) Skin of Dreams (2003) and Not the Same Sky (2013). She has also edited Later On: The Monaghan Bombing Memorial Anthology (2004).
Telling Truths: Evelyn Conlon and the Task of Writing is the first book to provide a critical assessment of her work. Drawing on a variety of perspectives such as feminism, ethics, famine studies, mobility studies, translation studies, short fiction, narratology and historiographic metafiction, the essays gathered in this volume reveal that Conlon’s writing, characterised by sharp observation, insistently questions the predetermined course of female existence, explores alternative forms of freedom and ultimately reflects her commitment to seek and tell truths. The intersectional approach of the book is part of a current endeavour in Irish Studies to keep interrogating well established topics, to examine the elusiveness of others and to explore new boundaries through renewed epistemological and ethical positions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword (Michael Cronin)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Nothing but the Truth (M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera)
  • PART I Writing against the Norm: Representations of Women’s Lives
  • “Women Behaving Badly” in Evelyn Conlon’s Short Fiction (Rebecca Pelan)
  • 2 Moving about the Irish Short Story: An Exploration of Evolving Style and Themes in Evelyn Conlon’s Fiction (Éilís Ní Dhuibhne)
  • 3 Women’s Mobility in Evelyn Conlon’s Fiction (M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera)
  • PART II Writing and Power Relations: The Politics of Language
  • 4 Hurtful Intimacy: Kinds of Knowing in a Pair of Evelyn Conlon’s Short Stories (Seán O’Reilly)
  • 5 Riffraff: Evelyn Conlon’s “Two Gallants Getting Caught” (Marilyn Reizbaum)
  • 6 Translating Evelyn Conlon (Ira Torresi)
  • PART III Writing the Past: History, Memory and Trauma
  • 7 Rites of Return: Evelyn Conlon’s Not the Same Sky (Margaret Kelleher)
  • 8 Later On, Later on, and in Another Country (Patrick Leech)
  • PART IV Writing and Ethics: Explorations of In/Justice
  • 9 Prisons, Prisoners, the Death Penalty and Resurrection in Skin of Dreams and A Glassful of Letters, by Evelyn Conlon (Joseph Bathanti)
  • 10 Ethical Encounters with the Spectral in Evelyn Conlon’s Fictions (Izabela Curyłło-Klag)
  • Coda
  • 11 The Lookout: A Conversation with Evelyn Conlon (Paige Reynolds)
  • Selected Works of Evelyn Conlon
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

←vi | vii→
Michael Cronin


Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost speaks of the enigma of proximity. Even when the closest of friends “arrives on the doorstep, something remains impossibly remote: when you step forward to embrace them your arms are wrapped around mystery, around the unknowable, around that which cannot be possessed. The far seeps in even to the nearest. After all we hardly know our own depths” (Solnit 2006: 31). Evelyn Conlon has spent a lifetime interrogating that mystery, teasing out the unknowable, trawling depths that others would prefer were left ignored or unspoken. From My Head Is Opening (1987) to Moving about the Place (2021), she has time and again returned to voices and perspectives that have been muted or distorted in the official stories of communities, the elite-friendly narratives of ceaseless progress. Maud in Skin of Dreams (2003) reflects that “there’s no way out of a past” (14) but for Conlon, this is a starting point, not an excuse. In detailing how pasts unravel in presents and inflect futures, she is concerned with the past as a site of possibility, not as an alibi for stasis. The young, orphaned women in Not the Same Sky (2013) are not the passive victims of the brutal algorithms of hunger and destitution. They actively draw on resources of resistance to negotiate an unstable present and an unknowable future. In this task, they are accompanied by the words of Evelyn Conlon, for whom justice is no mere legal abstraction but a painful reality that impinges directly on lives, from the most public events (state executions) to the most intimate (domestic violence). In one of the letters that make up Conlon’s A Glassful of Letters (1998), Connie describes a fireworks display in Dublin’s Phoenix Park and the unnatural mayhem of noise: “An occasional lone crow would fly across the sky bewildered, and then fly back again, like a vulture disturbing a beautiful painting” (105). The visual attentiveness, the sensitivity to disruption, the confession by Connie that, ←vii | viii→disappointingly, “nothing is left to the imagination in fireworks,” all point to Evelyn Conlon’s deep investment in the craft and necessity of writing. She deliberately shuns the didactic, wants the reader’s imagination to be freed from the identikit truths of punditry. If the letter-writing of A Glassful of Letters makes reciprocity explicit in the toing and froing between the various correspondents, it could be said that this is true of all of Conlon’s fictions, the reader always invited to react, reflect and write their own letters of interpretation.

In a literary career spanning four decades, Evelyn Conlon has borne repeated witness to the distinctness of her vision and the integrity of her art. She has had to contend with a well-documented critical indifference to the achievements of Irish women writers and an identifiable hostility to writers who take on topics or themes judged to be outside the realm of permissible dissent. This is not a writing that sits well with the manufactured pieties of the gala dinner or the PR-hungry platitudes of the awards ceremony. Evelyn Conlon’s primary loyalty has always been to the singular honesty of her imagination and a profound care for the intelligence of her readers. Formally, she has remained faithful to the possibilities offered by different genres. Moving between long fiction and the short story, Conlon avoids the relegation of the short form to some dubious notion of apprenticeship in preparation for the mature destination of the prose novel. Her abiding concern is with the endless potentiality of storytelling. When we read in “Escaping the Celtic Tiger, World Music and the Millennium” that “Anne Marie McGurran was driven demented by the mention of three things, the Celtic Tiger, World Music and the Millennium” (212), we know that we are faced with a writer who not only is unsparing in her critique of the parrot speak of lifestyle cliché but will use her wit and words to bring us to a place where Anne Marie can finally raise “her fist to the sky” and “find a new desert within which to put her heart” (218).

The German writer Judith Schalansky in the opening pages of The Inventory of Losses (2021) wonders about the nature of truth telling, the words that ensure survival: “Writing cannot bring anything back, but it can enable everything to be experienced. Hence this volume is as much about seeking as finding, as much about losing as gaining, and gives a sense that the difference between presence and absence is perhaps marginal, as long as ←viii | ix→there is memory” (25–26). Evelyn Conlon’s writings acknowledge that debt to memory, but this is a memory that is troubled, uncertain, contested. In particular, she is drawn to those who have been denied memory, who have been forgotten because such amnesia is convenient; remembrance itself proves to be a radical act. If this collection has brought together writers, scholars and translators, it is because there is a shared community of interest in the richly varied meanings of Evelyn Conlon’s work. These meanings complicate any complacent notion of what might constitute Irish Studies, but they also speak to a global community of writers and readers drawn to Conlon’s unique understanding of the texture of discrimination and exclusion. The seriousness of intent in these essays and the range of reference and topic are testimony to a decades-long commitment to a body of work that has produced such rich and telling responses. Telling Truths: Evelyn Conlon and The Task of Writing is a fitting tribute to a writer who has made such a decisive and lasting contribution to contemporary Irish literature. Criticism, too, is a form of memory. It is important to be reminded – as we are here, chapter after chapter – of how much we owe to the uncompromising integrity of Evelyn Conlon’s art. For those familiar with her work, the essays bring fresh, arresting perspectives. For those new to the material, a world of interpretive promise.


←x | xi→


As the editor of this volume I would like to thank the Spanish Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad and ERDF for the support of the research projects INTRUTHS (FFI2017-84619-P AEI/FEDER, UE) and INTRUTHS 2 (PID2020-114776GB-I00 MCIN/AEI).

I also wish to express my gratitude to the University of Vigo for having hosted author Evelyn Conlon in 2012 and, again, as a guest writer at the I International Conference “Atlantic Communities: Translation, Mobility, Hospitality,” in 2015.

I have benefited from a Salvador de Madariaga Scholarship for Senior Researchers during the school year of 2018–2019 and I am greatly indebted to scholars like Anne Fogarty, Margaret Kelleher and Michael Cronin for their encouragement when I first started to think about putting together a volume of essays on the work of Evelyn Conlon during that sabbatical year at University College Dublin. I would like to thank Nella Ní Neachtáin for her warm hospitality during my academic stays in Dublin. Thanks also to Róisín Conlon for collating the selected bibliography.

My gratitude extends to all the contributors, some of them busy writers and others hard-pressed academics, for their expertise and their solidarity and to the editor of the Peter Lang series Reimagining Ireland, Eamon Maher, for his patience and his enthusiasm. I remain most indebted to my Joycean scholar friend the late Professor Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli who first introduced me to Evelyn Conlon and her work.

To Martín Urdiales Shaw I owe his invaluable editorial assistance and his unconditional emotional support.

A special thank you to Evelyn Conlon for her kind availability and her extraordinary generosity.

←xii | 1→
M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera

Introduction: Nothing but the Truth

The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth.

– Susan Sontag, The Conscience of Words


XIV, 214
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (December)
Evelyn Conlon Irish Women Writers Contemporary Irish Literature Irish Studies Telling Truths Evelyn Conlon and the Task of Writing M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2023. XIV, 214 pp.

Biographical notes

Teresa Caneda (Volume editor)

M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera is Associate Professor of English at the University of Vigo (Galicia) in Spain. She is the author of La estética modernista como práctica de resistencia en A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (2000), the editor of Vigorous Joyce: Atlantic Readings of James Joyce (2010) and has been a member of the Editorial Board of European Joyce Studies since 2010. Her current research in the field of Irish Studies focuses on mobility, silence and vulnerability. She has coordinated the State- and ERDF- funded Research Project «INTRUTHS: Inconvenient Truths: Cultural Practices of Silence in Contemporary Irish Literature» FFI2017-84619-P AEI/FEDER, UE and is currently the Principal Investigator of «INTRUTHS 2: Articulations of Individual and Communal Vulnerabilities in Contemporary Irish Writing» PID2020-114776GB-I00 MCIN/AEI.


Title: Telling Truths
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