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Emerald Eye: The Best Irish Imaginative Fiction
editors: Frank Ludlow and Roelof Goudriaan
Aeon paperback £6.99

review by Martin Drury

Emerald Eye is more brochure than a book. The introduction to this menagerie of short stories casts creativity into the dirt with the throwaway line: "Forget the imagination." The introduction attempts to guide us through the book before our literary journey has even begun. It tells us to disregard thoughts of cowboys flying through space and monsters lurking on the next moon. Those stories belong to US pulp magazines and comics. Whilst reading Emerald Eye we should - according to the introduction - pay attention solely to the landscapes, the rolling Irish hills and the mysterious green, grassy mounds. Some on the tourist travels may be tempted to divert from the designated route to take a peek at the writers who have served their stories up on a platter of ink for us all to smell, to taste, to devour. Rest assured, walls have ears. Soon - sure enough - the introduction will dispatch a guide and the weary travellers will be forced to pay attention to paintings and things to see in the landscape.

Location influences story. Of that there is no doubt. Nothing exists in a vacuum. But when the location becomes the story all hope is lost. The imagination has been tethered to a post. Bob Shaw's The Giaconda Caper and David Murphy's Everyone This, Nobody That echo Emerald Eye's penchant for the first person narrative. Murphy, Shaw and a select few of their fellow writers utilise the Agatha Christie effect to perfection. The narrator is mysterious, his or her identity cloaked; his or her motives a secret too. As a reader you are thrown from a great height and plunged into the deep end of the half-finished conversation, the muffled remark, and the situation that is never quite what it seems.

Michael Carroll's In Dublin's Veracity - though praised to the rafters - is little more than a guided tour of Dublin conducted by a strange, idiosyncratic narrator fond of the modernist practice of turning the minimalist into the drab and the simple into the bland. The narrator's bed is in "his bedroom." The obvious becomes the important and the important becomes the obvious. Never before has Dublin been sketched so close upon the eye. The short story mode filters away the story piece by piece and leaves Carroll with little more than a tiny moment to fill with ink. In Dublin's Veracity is a journey but it is not an event. In a flash, it is gone. Dublin remains ensconced on the temple lobes. The story is forgotten.

Fred Johnston's Bolus Ground steps away from the first person narrative deception and leaps into descriptive language; illustration through poetry. The narratives, the mystery, the scenery are all strokes of brilliance on a canvass that could have been used to create a masterpiece. What is intended as a showcase for new writers and dominant forces in the Irish literary world comes across as a travelling circus where stories are made to perform in order to amuse and to illustrate rather to entertain and educate. The book that houses so many tales is devoid of conflict, aggression, annoyance and vigour. It has no voice. It is an echo of Ireland. The stories bubble and ferment as they clash with each other in the literary melting pot. Nothing links them. No thread holds them together. They are adverts. Nothing more. Nothing less. Emerald Eye left imagination on the scrap heap. Show the same lack of appreciation towards this collection of stories. Discard it and forget.
Emerald Eye

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