Home > 1990, CENTURY, EU Book Tour, Irish Literature, O'Connor Joseph, Short Stories > My hometown, my homeland, my people

My hometown, my homeland, my people

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

True Believers by Joseph O’Connor 1991. French title: Les Bons Chrétiens

True Believers is a collection of thirteen short stories published by Joseph O’Connor in different newspapers and magazines. I’ve been lazy and read the French translation instead of the original; it was probably for the best since I suspect the original is full of slang. So I have no quote, unfortunately. The French translation sounds good, I think, although the translators and I don’t have the same basis of cultural references or are simply not the same age. As a consequence, there is no footnote when Pasty O’Hara is mentioned but they felt the urge to explain who Bono is. Anyway. The stories are short and it would be boring to read a long billet going through them one by one. I’d rather give you an overview of the collection.

Put it in a nutshell, this book is like an old album by Bruce Springsteen, full of stories from the working class, from everyday life. It has the same atmosphere, the same flavor. It’s a tribute to the Irish people, describing them with their joys, their failures, their flaws. It’s refreshing that not a story takes place in upper classes. They are named Johnny, Mary, Joseph, Eddie, Jimmy or Fred. They are small people who try to cope with their lives as best they can. Taxi drivers, salespersons, priests, unemployed young men. You’ll encounter people who try to make their dreams come true and some who immigrate to London to find a job. You’ll have a look at good or bad marriages, broken relationships, women cheating on their husbands, men or women leaving their partners. You’ll hear kids describe events with their unusual look at the adults’ world. You’ll meet priests who doubt and old women who don’t and rely on holy water. You’ll peep in an activist’s life and his hopeless love for a British soldier. You’ll see how hard it is to leave secretly Ireland to have an abortion on your own in London. You’ll hear about the relationship between Irish and English people, the clichés from both sides, the misunderstandings. You’ll realise how difficult it is to keep friendships alive when one is in another country, when an OH enters the picture or when some issues are left unsolved.

It’s also about Ireland just before the economic boom, before what Tana French describes in Broken Harbor.  Reading both books is an interesting take at Ireland. These short stories are written by a man who sees his fellow citizen as they are and encapsulates the atmosphere of his time. He observes and he lets us see, never judging, always kind but not blind. And he’s got a great sense of humour. I’m not saying O’Connor is as good as Joyce but there’s something of Dubliners here. I don’t think it was a conscious project since the stories were initially published separately but putting them together like this makes a picture of Dublin anyway and leaves the impression of an author who’s deeply attached to his city and very human.

Highly recommended.

PS: The cover is a pub, obviously. I have to say that in France, when there’s a pub, it’s often called Irish Pub and celebrates St Patrick’s Day. Don’t ask me why. And when you google “aller dans un pub à Lyon”, you find one named James Joyce Pub

  1. September 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I had O’Connor mixed up with another author it seems. I thought I’d read his first two novels, but checking wikipedia I don’t seem to have read any of them.

    Which is probably a good thing, given I was avoiding him on the basis that I hadn’t particularly rated those two novels. I wonder who they were by?

    Is this your first O’Connor? Do you think you’ll read more?

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    • September 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Yes it’s my first O’Connor and I want to read more by him. My boss gave me Star of the Sea, usually she has good tastes.
      He has one entitled The Secret World of the Irish Male and I wonder what it covers. The title is funny and the book could be too. Maybe Leroy has read it.

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  2. September 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    The French title would have put me off. What is an OH?

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    • September 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      The French title is a good way to say True Belivers though. It didn’t put me off because it’s ironic.
      OH would be Other Half, I got that from Sarah, did she invent it?

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  3. September 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I’ve got Cowboys & Indians, one of his if not his first novel. I think he writes well but some people would argue that they hate exactly this poor people’e tales because it sounds so Irish cliché. I suppose, cliché or not, a lot is just reality. I might pick this up if I ever get a chance to read the novel first.

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    • September 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      I didn’t think it was full of cliché, it’s about the working class like in My Hometown, Thunder Road or The River by Bruce Springsteen. There is no pathos and no truly desperate poverty in these stories. Of course there are Irish references (IRA…) but not too many.

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  4. Brian Joseph
    September 22, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I have nit read Joseph O’Connor yet but I would like to. The Bruce Springsteen analogy really is a useful descriptor. As I love realistic and dark with a little light character musings, I am sure that I would enjoy this work.

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    • September 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      It’s worth a try and I’m glad the Springsteen comparison makes sense to you.

      Like

  5. September 27, 2012 at 2:07 am

    I’m with you on the cultural references, Emma – Pasty O’Hara means nothing to me, but I have vaguely heard of that Bono guy somewhere… I would have appreciated a footnote on OH, though – that was a new one to me too!

    I like the sound of these stories, and also the way you described them in the second person – very direct, and gave me a good idea of what to expect.

    I’m not sure what it is with Irish pubs – I’ve been to so many different parts of the world, from Japan to Peru, and even in towns where there’s no McDonald’s, you can always rely on finding an “Irish” pub. Usually the connection with Ireland is pretty tenuous…

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    • September 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      Now I’m totally blushing about the OH stuff. Really I thought it was one of those acronyms you enjoy so much, like DIY. I should have checked in the dictionary.

      To all: please when I ask questions about a word or an expression and you have invented it, tell me so. I have no way to know it doesn’t exist.

      I think you’d enjoy these short stories.

      PS: I haven’t checked your blog in a long time, I’ll try to catch up.

      Like

  1. March 28, 2013 at 12:26 am
  2. August 13, 2013 at 12:15 am
  3. June 13, 2016 at 9:53 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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