by John Boland

By Maeve Brennan. Counterpoint, €11.99

When Maeve Brennan’s stories of suburban Dublin life were posthumously published in The Springs of Affection twelve years ago, they were greeted with acclaim, and rightly so – here were 21 masterpieces which few had known about unless they’d been faithful readers of the New Yorker or had been fortunate enough to encounter when they were first collected in In and Out of Never-Never Land (1969) and Christmas Eve (1974).

Brennan, who was born in 1917, had gone with her parents to America in 1934 and in these marvellous stories she distilled all her feelings about the Ranelagh in which she’d grown up and more widely about the loneliness and loss that are the fate of ill-suited couples who are unable to communicate with each other.

Since 1997, they have achieved classic status but it’s good to have them in this handsome new paperback edition, which retains the affectionate introduction by New Yorker editor, William Shawn, who writes with great affection about his friendship with Brennan and with delicacy and poignancy about her gradual descent into mental instability, from which she never recovered until her death in 1993.

The Long-Winded Lady is a classic, too, though less known to many readers. This was first published in 1969 and its forty-seven vignettes of Manhattan life originally appeared in the pages of the New Yorker as “communications from our friend the long-winded lady.” By turns sardonic and wistful, they are extraordinarily evocative, whether about declining the offer of a seat on the subway, or about a young man waiting for his date in the wrong bar,  or a rainstorm seen through an apartment window, or the invisibility of life in a big city.

In an author’s note to these pieces, Brennan describes her adopted New York as “the most cumbersome, most reckless, most ambitious, most confused, most comical, the saddest and coldest and most human of cities,” and she describes the long-winded lady as someone who is “a traveller in residence…When she looks about her, it is not the strange or exotic ways of people that interest her, but the ordinary ways, when something that is familiar to her shows.”

This edition offers a postscript of nine pieces not contained in the original volume and in the last of these, entitled A Blessing and written in 1981, she offers an almost unbearably moving recollection of one particular New Year’s Eve in Cherryfield Avenue, with everyone on the road stepping out into their front gardens to greet the midnight church bells. “I nearly went mad with excitement and happiness,” she writes. “I know I jumped for joy. That New Year’s Eve was one of the great occasions of our lives.”

Despite all her decades of exile, it was to the Dublin of her childhood that her imagination always returned. It must have made for a deeply lonely life, but we’re the beneficiaries.

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