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Notes on Antarctica

July 17, 2021

Antarctica, by Clare Keegan, is recommended reading for my course.

  • I hadn’t read any Clare Keegen before.
  • She writes wonderfully well. Her prose is lovely.
  • Her writing reminds me of Raymond Carver. Elegant, elegiac short strories, generally about a turning point in a working class person’s life.
  • The stories are usually set in rural environments, many of them on small-holdings.
  • I couldn’t work out where she was writing about: Ireland; Irish enclaves in southern USA; etc. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.
  • She writes of working people and working lives with incredible attention to detail. It’s awe-inspiring. I wondered if it was a product of a life lived in those circumstances, or flawless, diligent research. Or both.
  • This is the kind of thing I should look up, though to some extent, it doesn’t matter: the prose comes across as authentic. I believe her when she describes the location, the setting, the culture, the work practices.
  • There’s a nice breadth to her story-telling, though mainly she talks about the sadness endemic to women’s lives. She talks about their resilience, too.
  • So these are stories which reflect the experience of women. Though the settings are rural, there’s a universality about the experience which I am sure echoes in the lives of other women.
  • There’s a story at the beginning where a woman seems to be being punished for her independence, for acting on her impulse. Everything turns to crap for her.
  • I worry about stories where everything is crap.
  • I know there’re a lot of crap situations out there. I/we know about them. We see them every day on the street, on the news. The trick is to acknowledge that, then find a way to represent the beating heart of humanity in a way that’s feasible.
  • Anyway, I worried that all the stories were going to be like that. It gave me the impression that I wouldn’t like this collection.
  • I need a bit of hope in the stories I read, not just despair. This might just be me, being a wimp.
  • But then, not all the stories were like that. Many showed tough women, making the most of situations which were not of their choosing.
  • Often, the situations are crap because the men in their lives are unpleasant, self-serving, greedy.
  • As a man, I have no problem with men being represented like that. This is one woman’s view of the world. I don’t doubt that she is writing about men according to her experience. If that’s the case, men have a lot to answer for. It’s up to me and other men to learn to be better.
  • In that sense, these serve as cautionary tales for the men who read them.

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