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Giving Shape to the Moment

The Art of Mary O'Donnell: Poet, Novelist and Short Story Writer

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Edited By Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos

This is the first book to provide a critical assessment of the work of the Irish author Mary O’Donnell. The essays collected here engage with O’Donnell’s writing across multiple genres and explore the themes and preoccupations that have characterized her oeuvre. Alongside her creative work, O’Donnell’s has been a steady and continuing voice for many years within the world of theatre criticism, book reviewing, essay writing, radio broadcasts and cultural commentary.

As a writer, O’Donnell’s principal themes include contemporary Irish society, the position of women in Ireland and the role of the artist. Throughout her career, her approach has been unconventional and her work has sometimes presented a challenge to the status quo. The contributors to this volume illuminate O’Donnell’s role as a humanist writer searching for truth at all costs, through the fictive lives of her often unusual characters, and through the emotional range and depth of her poetry.

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5 ‘Lifting Facades’: Mary O’Donnell’s Short Story Writing (María Elena Jaime De Pablos)

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← 98 | 99 →

MARÍA ELENA JAIME DE PABLOS

5   ‘Lifting Facades’: Mary O’Donnell’s Short Story Writing1

The Mask as a Symbol of the Suppression of the Individual Self in O’Donnell’s Writing

Mary O’Donnell has written two collections of short stories: Strong Pagans (1991) and Storm over Belfast (2008). The focus of these compelling, vibrant, and well-crafted stories ‘is turned towards an interrogation of the world, usually through the eyes of a central female character’ (O’Donnell 2009: 172). Their protagonists are sometimes portrayed as undergoing a personal crisis, not infrequently generated or worsened by either physical or psychical disorders. These stories are spaces for reflection upon the ‘I and my circumstances’ – in fact, many are written in the first person – in which the ‘I’ lets his/her unconscious flow in search of meaning in an absurd, grotesque, often nonsensical, inhuman and postmodern world.

These characters, however, try to conform initially and avoid revealing their true selves by wearing a mask, a ‘public face’, which leads us to observe human existence as a performance of extraordinary dimensions. This mask, which symbolizes the suppression of the individual self and the outward acceptance of a role, designed and imposed by the social order, dehumanizes people and induces them to experience identity problems. ← 99 | 100 →

In an interview with Mary O’Donnell carried out by Helen Thompson, Thompson draws attention to how O’Donnell ‘focus[es] on facades people create to maintain the appearance of normal...

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