15 thoughts on “The Collected Stories of Bernard MacLaverty

  1. I reviewed one of this book’s stories earlier this month, as follows…



    We give birth astride the grave.”

    A work of seven(!) plot-important ELBOW moments as well as CRANES that are sometimes invisible if it were not for the moon in the sky. And a climactic firework carnival that brings me back to MIRÓ here. Mixed with KKK figures.

    Another of those self-perfecting stories giving more than one glimpse of truth, as we follow a middle-aged married couple, talking about their grown-up daughters, on a “God, it’s hot” beach and drinks holiday in Spain, he, Jimmy, suddenly with an obsession to give the Spanish Inquisition, I guess, to his wife of 25 years, Maureen, about her pre-him backstory, such as her first orgasm. As their apartment is infested by ants and he watches younger women on the beach undressing, the first elbow moment. I include them all below as they give a structure of the pattern to the work’s telling gestalt alongside the ants and the three Irishman (priests?) whom the couple watch and culminating in the elderly octogenarian couple they spot at the end of their holiday, as they see the old man teaching the woman to swim. Not forgetting Jimmy earlier asking for “La cuenta” from the waiter after Maureen refused to answer his questions about her pre-Jimmy history. And his squinting at pubic hair, a sort of “status quo” of ants? Blackened round the honey poison. Gone for the ‘conjugular’ there?

    “Act your age, Jimmy. They’re young enough to be your daughters.”

    “The girl elbowed her way out of the shoulder straps of her bathing suit and rolled it down, baring her breasts.”

    “‘Don’t look now but I hear Irish voices.’
    ‘Jesus – where?’ Jimmy, with his elbows on the table, arched both hands over his brows and pretended to hide.”

    “I hate all the th’s – like everybody’s got a lisp.”

    “There’s no point in killing one or two. The whole thing is the organism.”

    “They lay there roasting for about thirty minutes, Maureen flat out, Jimmy resting on his elbows taking in the view.”

    “Things that had to be broken open and scraped, recognisable creatures which had to have them backs snapped and their contents sucked.”

    “Millions coming, millions going. He unscrewed the lid and aimed the oily liquid into the crack they were pouring in and out of.”

    “They’re like eyelashes round an eye,”

    “The façade of a church appeared as she came round a corner. It seemed to grow out of a terrace of houses…”

    “Maureen stood up and climbed the steps to the font. She leaned her elbows on the rim and looked at the round hole or shaft in the middle of it.” “Spluck!”

    “The cloister was a well for light – the cloister was a well for water. The word Omphalos came into her head. She connected the word to a poem of Heaney’s she’d read somewhere. The stone that marked the centre of the world. The navel.”

    “Her soul was the way she treated the world – ants and all.”

    “By the time she got to the beach Jimmy was already there. He was lying flat out on a sun-bed with his back to the sun. Maureen went up and nudged his elbow with her shin.”

    “…whenever Maureen or Jimmy had occasion to look up the cranes would be in different positions and at different angles to each other.”

    “They ran, Jimmy elbowing his way through the crowd away from the dancers, pulling Maureen after him by the hand.”

    “The danger brings pleasure. It involves the audience totally.”

    “The status quo. People stayed together because it was the best arrangement.”

    “Hang-over horn”

    “…dead ants still blackened the margins of the honey-poison.”

    “The old man was taking the woman by the elbow and speaking loudly to her in Spanish, scolding her almost.”

    The status quo of us millions?


    THAT GLIMPSE OF TRUTH context of above review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/06/that-glimpse-of-truth-6/

    PS: My reviews of all William Trevor stories linked from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/william-trevor/

    I published the world’s first blank story in Nemonymous #2 in 2002

    Pingback: BLANK PAGES by Bernard MacLaverty | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books 


    “Kevin would dig into the pocket deep down almost to his elbow and pull out a handful of coins speckled with bits of yellow and black tobacco.”

    “Kevin knelt on the cold lino of the bathroom floor, one elbow leaning on the padded seat of the green wicker chair trying to get help with his Latin.”

    “Kevin laughed and slipped his hand into the warmth of his father’s overcoat pocket, deep to the elbow.”

    The story’s last word. Indeed, this is the apotheosis of an elbow story. It is a great story irrespective of that! — with other body parts, a father’s scraped chin, Kevins’ rapped fingers, and a teacher’s adam’s apple against a Roman collar, and my own memories of grammar school in the late fifties and early sixties, declining Latin nouns, construing and parsing, except it wasn’t a religion-led school as it is in this story, with a teacher who was also a Father as well as a gowned mortar. My father was a postman and, later, an ironmonger, not a barman as Kevin’s father was. Pride is in being proud of whatever a person is and the trust in what that person thinks it knows. The last word.

  3. B60848D2-9935-4D29-94BA-670F11E1BF5D A RAT AND SOME RENOVATIONS

    Why the Irish once expected visits from a body of people called “the Yanks” and, if so, why they felt the need to modernise or madernize their kitchens and, by doing so, awaken rats by dint of the evidence of brown pellets big enough for horses, are all items of fact beyond my conception of any fiction.


    “He set it down on the quiet carpet of the hallway…”

    Had his potato ‘smashed’ into soup, had this suitcase on the quiet carpet rifled by two small boys, a Father of the church reminding me of home visits after I got married to a Catholic in 1970 and told about the ‘rhythm method’. Didn’t work, in my case!
    A story of a difficult marriage visited by this priest. Through the eyes of the woman with these kids. Hitting a kid’s thick bone with her wedding ring for doing what she was now doing herself to the suitcase. And the ‘wee medals’ the priest dished out as superstitious cure-alls so that he could, on the quiet, stay in the spare room. Even the suitcase itself felt dated. And the cigarette smoke that was everywhere in those days.
    But who was this, the husband or the priest? —
    “He had picked a spot somewhere about the level of the pelmet and stared fixedly at it most of the day. He seemed to use it as an excuse for not talking, as if it were a TV programme and he didn’t like to interrupt.”
    Read it and find out.


A balding fifty year old in Belfast 1971, I guess. Full of atmospheric things of the times. What a character sketch! Spending his dole money on booze. A potted Belfast Bloomsday in one short sick swoop of a fairground waltzer. If I tell you more, it will end before I begin.

    “His elbow slipped off the edge of the counter and he belched loudly again.”


    No picked-out quote or any comments from me can do justice to this story that genuinely made me feel tearful. Yet it was a joyous experience to read such a priceless nugget of literature.


    My school days feel the same as John’s days in this semi-blasphemous (cussing the Pope not God) story of a boy facing the strict rituals of a public exam as overseen by an invigilator of unknown faith and a heavy boot, and John has a religious levitational epiphany when, in panic, seeing he can’t answer any of the questions, but most boys then usually had semi-orgasms in similar circumstances, from what I remember. But, of course, I didn’t have an aunt like John’s who religiously read to me about the saints. Nor a belief in administrative mistakes by God.

  8. The next story reviewed below seems not to be included in this collection, but it should be. I sought it out because of today’s exchange HERE


    “…and even though there is no hope of a reply I inquire after our daughter, Elgiva. She is a young woman who is ill with a skin complaint which makes her avoid the company of all but her closest female friends.”

    This is story of a colonial dignitary from the British Isles who thus writes home to his wife not expecting a reply because of postal logistics. And it is somehow a short work that truly creeps under our own skin, not only ELGIVA’s. It is genuinely oblique in an Aickman fashion, but even more horrific, with a similar brinkmanship of absurdity and disarming strangeness. Kafkaesque, too, when he is invited to a prison and he sees all the containers the prisoners are kept in, containers like claustrophobic cuboid bells, ‘bells’ that if they are naughty are thumped with a sledgehammer relentlessly, or so I recall, without somehow daring to re-check. One of them holds a girl prisoner. The night before, a pubescent girl performs a salacious dance for him at a ceremony to which he is invited and he is offered her for overnight pleasure which he politely declines. I think the word VAGILE actually covers the impression of both the above scenes as a singularity, by this word’s straightforward meaning of agile freedom as well as by its askew implication. Not a fable or parable, I sense, but simply a work that is what it is. A great horror story.


    “He had listened to stories on the site of rods being inserted, burning needles and worst of all a thing which opened inside like an umbrella and was forcibly dragged out again.”

    This is the moving story of a man returning to Belfast for a while, returning by ferry ship with ‘sounds and sweet airs’ still in my memory. He works for a pittance, it seems, in England. He carries gifts for his wife and children in Ireland, and a pack of trick cards as a conversational ice-breaker. There seems mutual love with his wife, while making hay where he can. The New Zealand nurse in England who treated him singing detective wise for appendicitis and for his loneliness, too, whatever disease those days brought venereally. On board, a girl he ponders reading a book. A Down’s syndrome girl. And soldiers reluctantly returning to Belfast. This an interlocking past and future pattern of life’s card tricks and peoples and loves and enduring loyalties, with a memorable scene coming back to the coast of Ireland with its washed out gasometers etc. in the distance.

    “The damp came through to his elbows where he leaned on the rail and he shivered.”

    “People were meant to be straight, not tilted and angled like this.”

    “His hour had come. It was funny the way time worked. If time stopped he would never reach home and yet he loathed the ticking, second by second slowness of the night.”

    “He wondered if books would solve it. Read books and maybe the problems won’t seem the same.”


    An atmospheric, ultimately sad tranche of a shooting hunt by the sea cliffs on the Irish Sea, involving rabbits and birds, three men and a boy, narrated by one of the men, I guess, who is new to hunting as he has to be taught to shoot straight and how and when to control the dog called Ikabod with a noose as collar.
    I note, outside of this vignette, that the dog’s name is “the glory is gone” in Hebrew, or is he named after Ichabod Crane, and it is merely the narrator who spelt it differently?

  11. HUGO

    “The clack of teeth after divine music.”

    …the description of the gramophone needle run-off from a shellac 78 record of Schubert. And this story is full of different faltering sounds almost reaching meaning, via winces, and the hit and miss writing of fiction as appraised from within it, the fine tuning via a Roget thesaurus (I, too, can’t think of a five letter word for ‘gristle’, maybe ‘sinew’?) and overcoming a stammer with some sort of ‘rhythm method’, and adjusting life to taking the priesthood or writing a novel as a doppelgänger of Joyce, the priorities of literature or life (cf Joyce’s daughter), the priorities of the arts or science when at school, and the two tones of a hoover, normality versus subnormality in primitive art still trying to adjust itself, the tried-out, potentially lethal positions in yoga leading to a misbegotten silence, the ‘epiphanies’ of different flaws making a tentatively optimised gestalt, the making of sweets ironically for those erstwhile grinding teeth in this classic elbow moment…
    “I switched on the bedside light and looked at Hugo’s face. A knot of muscle gathered at the elbow of his jaw and vibrated, then his whole lower jaw moved slowly from side to side and the noise came.”
    A character study to beat all character studies of someone called Hugo whom the narrator got to know when the former was a lodger at his mother’s and there was another lodger called Paul, who remembers Hugo by talking about him to the narrator at the end in some dark version of a wedding… Many evocative observations of a certain era. Further optimising fine-tuning of roughnesses and flaws of life together with their sounds, and I really got to know Hugo (including the nature of the novel he had written) via the writing of the leasehold narrator that is inherited from the freehold author, I guess. So much in this story, I sit here with my mouth open in awe, making my own hopefully discreet bodily sounds. I particularly empathised with “For me to write simply is unnatural and as arduous as thinning a forest.” This story as an honest truth is both simple and complex, prose-rich but not too much. Crammed with things, though, that keep teeming in my brain to obviate life’s sorrow and missed goals. Hugo as Qugo, meantime, lives on in the reader’s mind forever, I sense. I hope.

    “Literature is the space between words. It fills the gaps that language leaves.”
    (Like the teeth?)

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