Iria Seijas-Pérez
University of Vigo, Spain

Creative Commons 4.0 by Iria Seijas-Pérez. 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.

Madalina Armie and Veronica Membrive, eds.

Routledge, 2023. 203 pages.

ISBN: 978-1-032-40964-1

As described in the title, Trauma, Memory and Silence of the Irish Woman in Contemporary Literature: Wounds of the Body and the Soul, edited by Madalina Armie and Veronica Membrive, examines Irish womanhood in relation to the connection between the triad of trauma, memory, and silence. The volume provides a significant array of relevant essays which explore Irish women’s traumatic experiences on both sides of the border and examine the healing processes while remarking the role of fiction in visibilising the silenced struggles of women. It is preceded by a riveting foreword by renowned author Evelyn Conlon, where she reflects on the history of women’s struggles in Ireland and abroad thus contextualising the work of the editors which she praises.

In their introductory chapter, Armie and Membrive discuss how “trauma, memory and silence are at the heart of both Irelands and consequently also at the heart of Irish women’s lives in the past and the present” (6). As they remark, the individual chapters share their determination to reveal how systems of oppression and power in the island of Ireland have worked – and continue to do so – in connection to womanhood and to the triad of trauma, memory, and silence. The volume is structured into Part I, a compilation of academic essays, and Part II, conformed by three pieces of creative writing by acclaimed Irish women authors.

Part I opens with Jessica Aliaga-Lavrijsen’s chapter in which she analyses Catherine Brophy’s critical dystopic novel Dark Paradise. Aliaga-Lavrijsen focuses on the different forms of violence against women and through her discussion of state-controlled breeding and forced sterilisation she highlights the patriarchal dominance over reproductive rights in Ireland. Ultimately, the chapter brings to light the systemic violence that underlies female bodies and reproduction matters, as well as highlighting “the urge to represent and reveal specific wounds and traumata” (39-40). In Chapter 2, Burcu Gülüm Tekin addresses the depiction of silence as traumatic response in three short stories from Leland Bardwell’s collection Different Kinds of Love. As the author discusses, the short stories expose how women are silenced as they fail to find support within their communities and, thus, the characters embody how the “social neglect of women’s traumas in the country” (50) is propelled by the Catholic Church and nationalism. Tekin appropriately demonstrates that Bardwell’s short fiction uncovers hidden voices and reflects traumas that prevail in Irish society.

The relevance of voice and agency is also the main concern of Chapter 3. Elena Cantueso Urbano and María Isabel Romero Ruiz draw on a collection of interviews published by the non-profit organisation Justice for Magdalenes and use the testimonies from survivors between the 1940s and 1960s as a framework for the discussion of Patricia Burke-Brogan’s 2003 play Stained Glass at Samhain. Interestingly, the authors explain how the women who suffered the punitive regime of the laundries continue to struggle with their traumatic past in the present as they attempt, not always successfully (and here they refer to the responsibility of Church and State), to heal their wounds through their disclosure of memories. The theme of transgenerational trauma also occupies Chapter 4 in which Paula Romo-Mayor discusses toxic masculinity and colonialism in Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Walk Home. She approaches the position of the female characters as trauma victims and looks at how this is reflected in the negotiation of their pasts and on the impact that their actions have on younger generations. In analysing Seiffert’s novel, Romo-Mayor skilfully remarks the importance of sharing experiences for trauma victims, as a way of easing the burden of trauma across generations.

In Chapter 5 Melania Terrazas examines women’s trauma, memory, and silence in Emer Martin’s The Cruelty Men. Following Will Storr’s approach to the science of storytelling, Terrazas argues that in Martin’s novel, which brilliantly intertwines aspects of gender, class, and colonialism, the storytellers’ voices end the silence imposed on a history of traumas affecting the lives of Irish women. Throughout her original discussion, Terrazas convincingly concludes that The Cruelty Men functions as a “tribute to the suffering and values of generations of silenced Irish women” (88). Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis, F.B. Schürmann provides a controversial analysis of Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing in Chapter 6. Through his study, Schürmann asserts that “[t]here are no a priori traumatic events” (92, original emphasis) and, thus, the central crisis lies not in the rape of the narrator (as is often discussed) but in the relationship with her brother where “the contradiction of half-formedness finds positive embodiment, a contradiction that reverberates through and animates each move of the narrator” (100).

Alicia Muro looks at Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends (2017) and Normal People (2018) in Chapter 7. She focuses specifically on the protagonists’ childhood traumas through an examination of their relationships with others and also explores the relevance of shame, silence, and trauma. It is healthy and meaningful relationships, Muro ultimately concludes, that offer protagonists the only possibility of healing as they become sources of self-love and appreciation that break away from the environment of the dysfunctional family. In the next chapter, Kayla Fanning draws on Georg Lukács’s concept of “rounded notion” (1920) in order to demonstrate how Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours (2014) and The Surface Breaks (2018) suggest that such narrative is “inadequate for representing girls and women and their lived, often traumatic experience, because they can never fully experience a Lukácsian homecoming” (116). This contribution clearly emphasises the dissociation of the protagonists from their bodies through the imposition of damaging modes of self-care and their inhabiting of oppressing worlds.

The notion of oppression is at the centre of many of the chapters. This is the case of Chapter 9 which examines the trauma caused by the imposition of silence and secrecy over lesbianism within the conservative, heteronormative, and patriarchal Irish society depicted in Donal Ryan’s Strange Flowers (2020). As Asier Altuna-García de Salazar aptly argues, the female protagonist’s negotiation of her lesbian identity illustrates the traumatic subordination that is produced by silencing power structures that conceal lesbianism as an inconvenient truth, bringing to the forefront the representation of an often-hidden reality. Whereas silence may be used to hide illicit relationships and, thus, may function as a form of protection, it also prevents those who must conceal their identities from healing their wounds. This is precisely what Mayron Estefan Cantillo-Lucuara explores in his own chapter as he discusses the trauma experienced by the protagonist of Emma Donoghue’s novel Hood (1995), a closeted lesbian grieving the death of her girlfriend. As Cantillo-Lucuara discusses, her initial self-seclusion originates an ontological and sexual closet from which the protagonist is unable to come out until she finally breaks away from the silence that hinders her healing and finds a structure of support as she shares her truth.

Part I of the volume closes with María Gaviña-Costero’s analysis of Anna Burns’ Booker Prize winner Milkman (2018). For Gaviña-Costero the novel approaches collective, cultural, and individual trauma caused in Northern Ireland by the Troubles, and, thus, silence and amnesia appear as a response to the traumatic events experienced by the protagonist.  Burns’ intention, the author of the chapter explains, is to denounce the mistreatment and repression of women. The chapter demonstrates how closure of the harm caused by the Troubles cannot be achieved if society chooses to silence and forget women’s suffering.

Part II includes three pieces from the works of Catherine Dunne, Mia Gallagher, and Lia Mills. Dunne’s piece is a fragment from her forthcoming novel A Good Enough Mother, in which motherhood in Ireland is addressed through the accounts of five different mothers that have been marked by the traumatic effects that church and state regulations have had upon Irish motherhood. The second piece is a draft from Mia Gallagher’s forthcoming novel, provisionally entitled Kindergirl. Set in 1984 Germany, it centres on the lives of two young Irish girls and focuses on issues of sexual transgressions, emigration, discrimination, violence, and missing children, among others. The last piece, Lia Mills’s short story “Flight”, revisits the legend Toraíocht Dhiarmuid agus Gráinne and readdresses the violent and misogynistic world of Irish mythology. Mills shifts the perspective and not only positions a young woman as the narrator but also sets the story in a contemporary context, thus denouncing current forms of violence and abuse against women.

In sum, Trauma, Memory and Silence of the Irish Woman in Contemporary Literature: Wounds of the Body and the Soul thoroughly explores the interconnections of trauma, memory, and silence in relation to the experiences of women in Ireland across a significant selection of literary texts. The volume pertinently identifies relevant research topics which have been gathering momentum in Irish Studies in recent years and, in this sense, it should be regarded as a key work in the field, a recommended reading for anyone – scholar or otherwise – interested in Irish literature, trauma studies, and gender studies.

Acknowledgements

This publication has been co-funded by the predoctoral grant programme by Xunta de Galicia: “Programa de axudas á etapa predoutoral da Consellería de Cultura, Educación e Universidades da Xunta de Galicia”. This publication is also part of the project I+D+i PID2022-136904NB-I00 funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033/ and “ERDF A way of making Europe”.