Traditions and Trends
Edited By Elke D'hoker and Stephanie Eggermont
Claire Keegan’s New Rural Ireland: Torching the Thatched Cottage
Although she has published only two collections of short fiction – Antarctica (1999) and Walk the Blue Fields (2007) – and the long short story Foster, issued as a single volume in 2010,1 Claire Keegan has already earned critical acclaim as a major voice in the contemporary short story. Whereas the stories in Antarctica are placed in a variety of settings, including Ireland, the US and England, Walk the Blue Fields and Foster are set in rural Ireland,2 the locale where Keegan was raised and where she still chooses to live. It is also the setting for her most assured and masterful writing. Rural Ireland has worn multiple faces in Irish literature, by turns sentimentalized and reviled, a place of sublime beauty and domestic harmony or a punishing landscape concealing brutal secrets. Keegan’s rural fiction, with its narratives of strong-willed yet thwarted women, priests who break their vow of celibacy, farmers enthralled with and enslaved by their land, children undervalued and misunderstood, at first glance suggests familiar territory charted by William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, John McGahern, Liam O’Flaherty and others, but there is nothing derivative or stale about these ← 279 | 280 → stories.3 As Anne Enright has observed, ‘Keegan takes the clichés of Irish rural life and sets them ablaze.’4 Both timeless and rooted in the here and now, Keegan’s rural Irish live constrained but not predetermined lives; they are more often victims of their own choices than of circumstance. As in the early stories of Edna O’Brien,...
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