Hearts and Bones: Love Songs for Late Youth by Niamh Mulvey: Another fine Irish collection

Cover image for Hearts and Bones by Niamh Mulvey I’m on a winning streak with Irish women authors this year. I’m sure to hit a dud eventually but Niamh Mulvey’s debut, Hearts and Bones, certainly isn’t it. This slim collection comprising ten stories comes with a subtitle which sets the tone, echoed by that brilliant jacket, as its narrators, mostly women, look back at those points in their life which marked a turning point.

She came home for a month the year her marriage ended. It had faded away like a photograph in the sun 

As ever, I’ve picked out a few favourites to give a flavour of what’s on offer beginning with the opening piece, Mother’s Day, in which a woman, married into wealth, meets her estranged mother of whom she’s slightly ashamed. In Feathers, a bored, anxious teacher’s visit to her boyfriend in France turns out to be surprisingly liberating when his cleaner becomes an ally and a friend. First Time is narrated by a sixteen-year-old boy awed by his girlfriend who always seems so in charge of herself until one day she doesn’t. In Childcare, ten-year-old Julia watches as her alcoholic mother blossoms knowing that it can’t last and resolves how to survive with an unnerving maturity. Blackbirds sees two siblings, a brother who loved their parents’ bohemian poverty and had no interest in getting on, and his bright sister who became a doctor, brought back together when her marriage fails.

He enjoyed the person he was in her mother’s warnings, a rebel in a leather jacket from a world that didn’t exist

Mulvey explores fraught family relationships, class, religion and love mostly from the perspective of female narrators who experience anger, resentment, liberation and often epiphanies as they navigate their way through the difficulties of life. Julia’s ten-year-old voice is particularly powerful, a child with no say in her life who learns to watch and act according to what she observes. Mulvey’s writing is marked by a pleasing economy: she has a habit of dropping in short, stark sentences that pull you up short. There’s humour and wit to enjoy but these are mostly sober stories, many of which capture the pain and confusion of childhood and adolescence. No surprise to find that Mulvey’s a contributor to Stinging Fly a subscription to which I’ve added to my birthday list.

Picador: London 9781529079913 176 pages Hardback

7 thoughts on “Hearts and Bones: Love Songs for Late Youth by Niamh Mulvey: Another fine Irish collection”

  1. jenniferbeworr

    Oh my, this really does sound like a strong one. I’ve been wanting to read more short stories as well. That Wendy Erskine collection has stayed with me. Cheers.

    1. I’m sure this one would hit the spot, too, Jennifer. I’ve learnt to look out for mention of Stinging Fly in short story writers’ bios. Their contributors are all excellent.

      1. jenniferbeworr

        It’s exciting to learn about her through you. I only wish I could read as quickly as you do!

  2. I so often enjoy Irish writing, and I enjoy good short stories. This certainly seems like a great little collection. Glad to have it on my radar.

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