‘Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction’ edited by Paul McVeigh

I don’t often talk about where I get my books or how I choose the books I read but I think it’s worth mentioning here. I actually won this book as part of a Twitter competition held by Munster Literature Centre. I was delighted and excited to win and to have this book sent to me but if I’m honest I would have bought it anyway. Queer Love pitches itself as an attempt to “redress the lack of acknowledgement of the LGBTQI+ community in Irish literary anthologies”, and for my money it does just that and more.

Editor Paul McVeigh has done a wonderful job here bringing together a diverse collection of short stories, each other stylistically and thematically distinct from the previous. Furthermore, the anthology is a mixture of well established, up and coming, and emerging Irish writers. The result is a beautiful anthology that brings the reader through the ups and downs of queer love in its numerous and varied forms. This anthology brings together 10 distinct writers and stories, so I’ll briefly mention some of my favourites then reflect on the anthology as a whole.

The anthology opens with ‘Araby’ by John Boyne. This is in some ways a queer retelling of James Joyce’s short story of the same name. Our unnamed protagonist is pulled from his home after his parents leave for Canada without him and abandoned with his Aunt and Uncle in North Dublin. He quickly develops a crush on a local boy, a rugby player. However, as the story winds to a close this childish infatuation is crushed and we end on the line:

“That part of me that would be driven by desire and loneliness had awoken and was planning cruelties and anguish that I could not yet imagine”.

John Boyne, ‘Araby’, p. 18

Quite frankly it was completely unfair of McVeigh to immediately punch me in the heart this way. After finishing this story alone I was sold on the anthology as a whole. This was a story that I feel perhaps every queer person will recognise from their young; foolishly falling for a straight person. A tale as old as time. Boyne masterfully depicts the loneliness and hurt one can feel jilted by someone who never even considered you an option.

Colm Tóibín’s outing in collection entitled ‘Sleep’ is exactly what we’ve come to expect from an internationally acclaimed writer such as himself. The story is one caught between worlds, sleep and waking, New York and Dublin. It’s a story of the past haunting the future and the process the exorcising ghosts that simply won’t go away in the dead of the night. This is a theme that reoccurs through the anthology in various writers’ stories. I bring it up as it is also a theme I recognise in the lives of many of my queer friends. Growing up queer in Ireland is more often than not a traumatic experience. These ghosts the past have haunted the lives of too many, Tóibín wonderfully catches the essence of this struggle with the past in this quiet and poignant story. It also has the honour of featuring a line which has haunted my thoughts since first reading it:

“There is a year missing in your stories of your life, and this makes everyone who loves you watch you with care.

Colm Tóibín, ‘Sleeping’, p. 105

I’m still not entirely sure what about this line struck me, but it hasn’t left me since.

The anthology closes on Shannon Yee’s story ‘Thumbnails’ which wonderfully demonstrates both the formal and thematic variety we’ve come to love in queer writing. Her story is one of family, departing from depictions of family in earlier stories as sites of pain and destruction, Yee’s family is one of love. It is written as a kind of monologue to the speaker and her partners’ daughter, tracing the ups and downs of life as she grows up and eventually leaves them. There is no doubt that The Family is a contentious unit in queer life. For many queer people if it is not just a site of pain and loneliness, it is a painful reminder of secrets, self-hatred, and time spent in the closet. Yee’s beautiful story reminds us of the possibilities of Family outside the biological or heteronormative. Once again I’m going to share a line from that story which has stuck with me since:

“Don’t erase one of us in your stories about home.”

Shannon Yee, ‘Thumbnails’, p. 142

How easily queer people have been written out of Irish life. Practically every family in the country has a cousin, aunty, uncle, brother, or sister who is simply written out of family history as a result of their queerness. Yee’s story lashes out at this, writing queer people and queer families back into the fabric of Irish life. It’s a wonderfully hopeful note to end this anthology on.

This is getting long and I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface. From Emma Donoghue’s story of passionate love making in the back of a van in Galway ‘Speaking in Tongues’ (get it?) to James Hudson’s raw depiction of the duality of identity and the negotiations that come with in ‘You Roll’, this anthology is truly a wonderful read from start to finish. There are stories of lost love, lonely hearts, crushes on straight people, long term relationships, and everything in between. I personally loved it, no two ways about it.

It’s also worth remarking of course that I hope that this isn’t it. Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction is a wonderful book and once I would have killed for when I was thirteen or fourteen. However it is tragically short and by no means representative of the wonderful array of queer life in Ireland. This is an issue Paul McVeigh addresses in the forward by making it clear that there’s only so much one anthology can do. This I do agree with. I think the book we have is a great one and I hope that it encourages readers and editors alike to dig deeper and finally finally address the chasm that has long existed in Irish literature and media.

You can order a copy of Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction here