William Wall reviewed by Joe Horgan


I don’t get William Wall. I don’t get why, if there is a top table of Irish writers, William Wall isn’t sitting at the head of it. I don’t know, maybe he is, but I sure as hell hear much lesser writers mentioned a lot more than I do him. I don’t know why because I don’t know William Wall. Is he particularly difficult or something? Which in a way would be nice as I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing the primacy of the career, establishment hugging writer passing. Is he too political because I don’t think that sits well either, does it? I remember when my first book came out being told by one person of influence that I should watch some of the things I say on account of my ‘career.’ Does that incorporate even far, far finer writers like William Wall? I only digress like this because with this short story collection, Hearing Voices Seeing Things, William Wall has shown yet again that he is one of the finest writers we have. Ah, let’s forget the ‘we’ bit of that because I think Wall’s excellence goes way beyond any category of Irishness. Take the story I Am Lost In This House, probably my favourite in the book. Like most of the stories in this collection it really is quite short in that it is only some five pages long yet in that span Wall deals with class, emigration, age, and gender with a moving, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic touch that a four hundred page novel might struggle to reach. Wall also has that great knack of throwing away lines that stick long in the reader’s mind. So a mouse stuck on a glue pad trap, The Trap, becomes a ‘tiny beautiful skeleton at prayer.’ The disposal of an estranged husband’s ashes, Paper and Ashes, is described as being ‘like someone had thrown a fire away.’ Now William Wall is a poet too but it is rare that the two forms are so wonderfully intermingled, rare that the language is up to that. These stories are often both dark and humorous with a survivor’s sense of comedy. They are often about people in somewhat desperate situations that on second glance become just situations that are a part of most of our lives. True, Wall has often a twist of strangeness but only of the kind we find in the wonders of everyday life. Warming too is reading fiction so effortlessly socially aware, so that people with chaotic lives or stranded by inarticulacy are given voice in an unforced, almost joyful way. Even when Wall is treading the well-worn paths of small town Irish life, The Mountain Road, and a woman despised for not knowing her station in life he brings something new and challenging by framing it within the extremes of a father who has killed his own children. It’s a gruesome tabloid headline made art and even here he throws in an inconsequential but arresting line. Leaving the funeral parlour is captured by a tiny sigh escaping as the door closes ‘like the seal opening on an air-tight jar.’ Your there, aren’t you? Writing with the exactness of painting. So much so that in the story, Unedited Transcript Re. Fear, Wall presents us with a superb parody of official speechifying that encapsulates modern Ireland in an off-kilter story about a tragedy at an amusement park. Listen, this review could be very short and would basically consist of saying read this book because William Wall is a masterful writer and a master of the short story form. I’m still bewildered as to how publishing works and as to why William Wall isn’t up there at the front but I’m just glad there is a writer over there in Cork writing fiction of this standard and that over in Galway there is a wonderful little press publishing it. It’s pretty good, you know, we have writers of this calibre and we have these wonderful independent presses bringing them out. Now I get that.

Joe Horgan