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Fables of the Irish Intelligentsia.

At the beginning of "The Missionary," the second and the best story in Fitzpatrick's debut collection, the following gem appears: "Father Boniface, you're a real shit,' said the Abbot of Petra Fertilis." It is clear from this hilarious and unlikely piece of dialogue that we have come into contact with a lively new Irish writer with an attitude. Not only does she mock those things that Irish writers have taken seriously for generations - faith, death, love, despair - but she also mocks the sacred form of the Irish short story itself.

In "The Missionary" Fitzpatrick explores the adult life of a monk named Father Boniface who is much more interested in making love to women than in ministering to his flock. This is a very clever story indeed, particularly in the way the author juxtaposes, in bizarre but effective ways, Irish history with contemporary Irish life. Fitzpatrick's handling of time in "The Missionary" is quite original for an Irish short story writer. Instead of concentrating on one event in Father Boniface's life, Fitzpatrick selects a variety of important events from his life and examines them in a detached, aloof manner. This method, which Borges mastered, has been absent from Irish writing till now.

In addition to monks and priests, the Irish intelligentsia is also comprised of mad university professors, writers, and other middle-class people who suffer from what might be called the classical" Irish weaknesses: they drink too much and do not love enough; however, when they find love they don't know what to do with it, so used are they to living without it. In hilarious attempts to provide their lives with meaning and order, many of the Irish intellectuals become followers of New Age gurus or join New Age communes. But New Age philosophy fails to alter the behavior of the Irish intellectual, as is made clear in "My Last Chance" when two of the group drink four pints in a pub between lectures on a mode of Eastern philosophy that has been designed to change their lives.

Nina Fitzpatrick's short stories are entertaining, original, and fiendishly clever. But this collection is not without its faults. The principal weakness is repetition. The characters and places in many of the stories blend together too easily and one is often left with the impression that the next story is a continuation of the previous one and that places such as Galway, Dublin, and Paris are interchangeable. Good as it is, this collection would have benefited from variety.
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Author:Wall, Eamonn
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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