Joseph O’Connor’s first short story collection (plus a novella) in over twenty years, Where Have You Been? reads in one go. For November it is perfect – broodingly melancholic even in its most comedic moments.
O’Connor’s characters are as diverse as his topics – a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer, a suicidal civil servant, a young Irish couple desperate to make it in the 1860s America. One minute we are in London of 1988, arguing with some Irish Republicans at a wedding and worrying about a sister who says she has lost her legs in Paris. Another story – and we are in Dublin, another yet – in the village of Glasthule, near Dun Laoghaire.
And through all this diversity – one theme, of family and fatherhood, whether in a personal sense or maybe in a wider meaning of our relationship to our roots, to our countries, wherever they are. Of course, for O’Connor it is Ireland, but the torturous love to one’s native land mixed with sometimes pride, sometimes, pain and embarrassment, and often unresolved feelings that a child might feel for their parent – this love is something anyone can understand without ever setting foot in Ireland.
‘The Wexford Girl’ and ‘The Death of The Civil Servant’ are my favourite short stories in this collection. In ‘The Wexford Girl’, a son recalls some poignant memories of his childhood, and of his father. In ‘The Death of the Civil Servant’, there is a son and father relationship too, and an ending that will keep you guessing, and possibly hoping. The novella, which gave its name to the collection, is almost a long short story too. Cian, having experienced a nervous breakdown, meets an English girl, a production designer who is in Ireland to shoot a television remake of Wuthering Heights. An affair starts, but the result of it will be surprising to all involved, including the reader.
Any Cop?: Where Have You Been? is a multi-layered, thought-provoking collection that might bring with it a bout of sweet nostalgia.