Life is a bit like a broken record. Some days you happily go about your day, spinning and twirling to the rhythm of your beat. Other days you get caught in a loop and struggle to find a way out. You just keep repeating the same thing over and over and over before it all becomes too much and you force yourself to a stop, scratching yourself in the process. Your value decreases and you wait on the rubbish pile with the other scattered records and CDs, hoping to be recycled and have a second chance at this strange thing we call life.
Today dear readers I am reviewing Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife : A Short Story Collection (Published By The Blue Nib 1 Sept. 2019) By Anne Walsh Donnelly. A big thank you to the author for sending me a copy to review, always appreciated. Let’s begin shall we dear reader? After you.
About The Author
Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in the west of Ireland. Originally from Carlow she moved to Mayo, twenty-four years ago. Her work has appeared in several publications including The Irish Times, Cránnog, Boyne Berries, The Blue Nib, Writers Forum and Dodging the Rain.
Her short stories have been shortlisted in many competitions including the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award (2014, 2016), the Fish International Prize (2015) and the RTE Radio One Frances Mac Manus competition (2014 & 2015). She won the 2018 Over the Edge Fiction Slam.
Her poems were highly commended in the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award (2017 & 2018). She won the Winter/Spring 2017/2018 Blue Nib poetry chapbook competition and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2018. She was also nominated for the Hennessy Irish Literary Award in 2019 for her poetry.
Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife
Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife is an impressive debut from Anne Walsh Donnelly. With her close observation of the human psyche, her razor-sharp pen delineates the world of murder, cruelty, control, with an eye that is sharp, unsettling and clearly demonstrates her lyrical talent. She shines a spotlight on the brokenness of life, the fear of silence and the desperate need for the characters to find someone to communicate with, whether it is with Iscariot or the Angel Gabriel. The voices are always true and convincing. I still cannot get the demise of the poor undertaker’s wife out of my head. That’s exactly what a good short story should do.
I loved reading Donnelly’s poetry book The Woman With An Owl Tattoo so was excited to learn that she had recently published a short story collection. YAY!
I admire Donnelly’s strong but brutally honest writing style. Her characters are realistic, caught in a hard place and struggling to figure it out. There’s no fairy tale romance or happily ever afters here. This is the real gritty dirt that life throws at us. Life is a once admired ornate object that was quickly smashed to pieces before anyone got a chance to actually see it. You spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what bit goes where: how does it all fit back together again?! And we make a lot of mistakes in the process. Life is never perfect. We hurt each other, lie and cheat. Donnelly portrays the human condition in all its horrific beauty in her stories. The whole naked truth of what we really are and it is fascinating to savour.
“Her warm corpse clung to his, as I screwed on the lid of the coffin. It was a difficult job getting it shut. My heart was thumping and hands shaking. I managed to squeeze the Guess handbag between Jack’s shoes.
I had to take the two dead dogs out of the coffin so there’d be enough space for Maureen. The weight of them nearly killed me as I dragged them out back and put them in the boot of my car. I’d bury them in the garden later, under her rosebushes.”
There were moments that made my blood run cold dear reader. Donnelly has a chilling narrative that makes you aware of your surroundings and the silence that you keep. She creates a real sense of atmosphere, the lonely stretch of Irish farmland that surrounds the characters, the silence and quaintness of life. How small and insignificant we all are when you look at the bigger picture. It broadens your mind and wakes your senses to the reality of the world we live in.
“It’s so quiet that I can hear the water lick the walls of the small pier at the bottom of the garden. The smells of the lake air and sap from chopped wood remind me why I still visit.”
Donnelly entwines themes such as second chances, forbidden love and taboo topics that get the reader thinking. They pay witness to the state of the messy world we live in, how lies and secrets eat away at the flesh and cause nothing but pain and destruction in their wake. It’s shocking and compelling writing that pulls you further in without a moment’s hesitation.
These stories are laced with grief, depression and death. The grief of losing someone you love only to realise that maybe it wasn’t love after all. The heavy depression that life weighs us down with in the day to day, paying bills and trying to survive. And the death of oneself, pretending to be something or someone you’re not and taking the risk to make a change, grabbing life by the throat till it begs for forgiveness. When did we start our slow demise and secretly lost our minds? Donnelly explores this intricately in her stories, it’s intoxicating and bewilders you.
“She put the earphones of her old Walkman onto her ears.
The spools scratched as they turned the ribbons of the cassette tape, scratches that threatened to scar the words of her favourite song, Only a Woman’s Heart. She’d played it every day since its release, the same week Teresa died. It was only at the lake that she listened to it; only there could she lie in her private mausoleum of grief.”
The stories in this collection strongly relate to what is happening in the here and now. In a world where everyone owns a phone we have little fear or concern of feeling alone, of having to entertain the silence. And isn’t that just what everybody needs sometimes? Someone to talk to, to listen and be heard? The world is inhabited by humans, there are billions of us, yet we still fear the silence and do battle with loneliness the moment it rears its ugly head. We may be able to connect to people online but still that yearning for the loneliness to end lingers. It’s human nature and we crave social interaction no matter how small or big, no matter who gets hurt along the way. Donnelly brings this much needed darkness and chill in her writing that needs to be noticed before we all succumb completely.
I give Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife : A Short Story Collection By Anne Walsh Donnelly a Four out of Five paw rating.
Donnelly’s writing goes from one extreme to the next, highlighting how much depth and skill she has as a writer. She is able to write from the most innocent and humble of minds to the most disturbingly psychotic. This collection of short stories not only shows the reader a dark realistic version of the world but opens a juicy can of worms on taboo topics that people often scream and shirk away from. She’s not afraid and is an extremely brave woman. I admire that, I raise my cold cup of tea to you, cheers.
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