John Walsh is a poet and fiction writer and has had three poetry collections published, including Johnny Tell Them (Guildhall Press, 2006), Love’s Enterprise Zone (Doire Press, 2007) and Chopping Wood with T.S. Eliot (Salmon Poetry, 2010). He is also the MC and organiser of North Beach Poetry Nights, the longest running poetry slam in Ireland, so when I read about this short story collection on The Reading Life & was then offered the chance to read this book my curiosity was truly piqued.
The tales in Border Lines start at the end of the 1960s and visit several points in the next decade, a period of British history shadowed by the conflict (The Troubles) in Northern Ireland, of which the main issues at stake were the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between the two factions. The Protestant unionist and Catholic nationalist communities, both had political and military (or paramilitary) dimensions embedded deep within their respective communities, forming an ever-present facet to the day to day existence of all who lived through this period. Although these troubles are an omnipresence in the shadows of these tales, they occasionally burst out into the light of day & become the tale or part of it, as in the title story Border Lines, which is set in Derry during these troubles and follows a solicitor frustrated with his role as a “messenger boy” between two friends, or in Beautiful Day which is a wonderful snapshot of a perfect day, in this case a first ever fishing trip, that becomes a fragment of memory forever overshadowed by a tragedy, and then there is Hawk, the tale of a ministerial visit to a school to see the new state of the art computer room, and the fantastic new computer program, Hawk, which is a history archive allowing pupils to tap all available archives and cross-reference them for validity. All I will say on this tale, is this is the history of Ireland & if you want to know more click on the Hawk link and read this brilliantly written tale.
There is another link that connects these stories, who acts as an axis around which these tales revolve, Ian, who we first meet after he has met his hero Jimi Hendrix, an event of great magnitude to him, that is later clouded by an outburst of violence from his father. We follow Ian as he bumbles trying to understand the world about him, struggling between the poles of self-doubt and self-discovery. Although we follow Ian, the tale isn’t linear, it’s more like slices from his life that are presented to us, shards that are offered up for our view, allowing us a chance of examining this world and in return reflecting our own.
This is a wonderful anthology of stories, that I thank the author John Walsh, for the pleasure gained from them & Mel U from The Reading Life for alerting me to their existence.