Maria McGarrity
Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York

Creative Commons 4.0 by Maria McGarrity. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

Teresa Caneda-Cabrera and José Carregal-Romero, eds.

Palgrave Macmillan, 2023.  246 pages.

ISBN: 978-3-031-30454-5 (hard cover)

ISBN: 978-3-031-30457-6 (soft cover)

ISBN: 978-3-031-30455-2 (eBook)

DOI:// (open access)

The new volume Narratives of the Unspoken in Contemporary Irish Fiction: Silences that Speak, edited by M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera and José Carregal-Romero, makes the enigmatic silences in Irish writing audible. While it may seem surprising to pay attention to what is unsaid and unclear, particularly in twentieth- and twenty-first-century writing, those fractures in consciousness and representation evoke not merely literary techniques associated with modernism and postmodernism but the fraught nature of human existence in an era consumed not merely with the representation of human experience, so often traumatic, but its aftermaths. These events endure even if they are beyond facile measure and representation. These moments of calm evoke a rich cultural heritage and profoundly troubling legacy that seems designed in Ireland to respond with an enforced hush. The unspoken cultural pressures relate to the historical power of state and church working together to create a nation of cultural and social suppression in the wake of Ireland’s independence in the Free State and ultimately in the Republic. Coupled with the emergence of the Troubles in the North/Northern Ireland that worked to make speaking dangerous if not deadly, this violence that so characterizes the period manifests throughout the writing. Yet, in this insightful volume, Ireland’s narrative silences scream.

The broad movements analyzing the cultural silences in Ireland intersect in illuminating ways throughout the collection. The essays are grounded in the well-known Irish writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Joyce particularly. His Dubliners and its attendant quietude surrounding scandal and suppression is a touchstone in several of the essays, and particularly so in the insightful chapter by Elke D’hoker. The fissures in representation, however, become significant when these established tropes and methods come to break open understanding of lesser studied writers and their works.

Marisol Morales-Ladrón’s “Conspicuously Silent: The Excesses of Religion and Medicine in Emma Donoghue’s Historical Novels The Wonder and The Pull of the Stars” provides a strong and convincing examination of Donoghue’s fiction to show that the writer is both challenging cultural norms of silence and breaking ground as she interconnects the restorative and sacred. One of the most illuminating of the essays, Eibhear Walshe’s “The Silencing of Speranza”, rehabilitates Lady Wilde from the scandals that plagued her family and establishes her silencing as a too common rhetoric used to deny women writers their rightful place in the public consciousness and appreciation. Walshe cleverly uses the symbolic domestic space on Merrion Square, the Wilde family home, and its former lack of public signage that marked not one or two but the three famous writers who lived there.

The erasure and silencing of women in Irish writing is perhaps most recognized in the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, whose first volumes almost entirely erased women from the Irish canon.  M. Teresa Caneda-Cabrera’s essay, “’To Pick Up the Unsaid, and Perhaps Unknown, Wishes’: Reimagining the ‘True Stories’ of the Past in Evelyn Conlon’s Not the Same Sky”, expertly places Conlon’s works of fiction with her feminism and advocacy for women writers in Ireland. Conlon was central to the production of the Field Day volumes on Irish Women Writers that have gone so far to correct the masculinist silencing of Irish women.  Her inclusion here places this restorative dynamic firmly in the tradition of Irish women writers as advocates and activists, as they have so often needed to be. Caneda-Cabrera’s essay frames Conlon within the narrative discourse that is a necessary treatment for this too often overlooked writer.  Caneda-Cabrera’s second essay in the collection, “Sure, Aren’t the Church Doing ‘Their Best?’: Breaking Consensual Silence in Emer Martin’s Cruelty Men”, expertly places Martin’s provocative and timely novel that skilfully wrestles with the Roman Catholic Clergy’s Sexual Abuse scandal in Ireland (a topic also addressed in the intriguing chapter by Seán Crosson)  as one that demands a confrontation with the silences that offered so much protection to abusers and continued trauma to survivors. Caneda-Cabrera exhibits both profound sensitivity and original insights into Martin’s novel as well as Ireland’s troubling legacies of abuse and trauma.

The final essay in the collection, José Carregal-Romero’s “Unspeakable Injuries and Neoliberal Subjectivities in Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Normal People”, offers a remarkably original examination of Ireland’s most recent literary star. What Carregal-Romero ultimately reveals is that Rooney’s fiction, while a publishing sensation, is firmly grounded in the Irish tradition of examining social and cultural repression; this repressive aspect of silence is perceptively explored in the essays by Thomas O’Grady and Asier Altuna-García de Salazar. While Rooney’s characters might offer contemporary interventions in silence, read in the light of previous chapters in the collection, this insightful piece reminds us that she is only the most recent writer to depict such wounds in Ireland.

The breadth of this essay collection is impressive and offers fresh insights into even the most well-known of Irish writers such as Colm Tóibín, whose work is rigorously scrutinized by Carregal-Romero. Yet, the truly valuable contribution to the critical discourse on Irish writing is the accessibility of the work. The editors have taken care to ensure that lesser-known writers are given their due and placed alongside those that are so familiar to us.  The pleasing result of this juxtaposition is, as the editors note, to examine how silence “is embedded in language, culture, society and institutions and provid[es] a forum for the discussion of the uses (and abuses) of silence in the context of Irish fiction” (1).  What this suggestive volume reveals is just how pertinent and necessary this analysis becomes for our own cultural reckoning as readers and writers of Irish narrative. The book is original just as the subject is vast. In its scope, the collection reveals what has gone unsaid for so long.  The editors and contributors, as much as the writers they examine, now call on all of us to speak, to confront that which some might prefer to hide and deny. If examining the aesthetic formations of silence reveals how Irish writing has reflected the cultural prohibitions, then the value of this collection shows us all (as remarked by Paige Reynolds in her thought-provoking foreword) the importance of cultural expression in general and the significance of representing the unspoken in particular. In this regard, the collection demands we shift our attention to the moments of textual silence that while initially may seem obscure in fact become revelatory.