Ceo Bruithne agus scéalta eile (Heat Haze and other stories)
Book Review by Dymphna Lonergan
Colin Ryan Ceo Bruithne agus scéalta eile. Cló Iar-Chonnacht 2019. 100 pp.
ISBN: 978 1 7844 203 3
A heat haze, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a shimmering of the air near the ground that distorts distant views’. ‘Ceo Bruithne’ is also the first story in Ceo Bruithne agus scéalta eile an Irish language short story collection by Melbourne’s Colin Ryan, and the second collection he has published with the West Connaught Press, Cló Iar-Chonnacht, the first being Teachtaireacht in 2015. Not only does ‘Ceo Bruithne’ serve to start the 2019 short story collection, it also heralds the related themes that run throughout: fate, mystery and prophecy. Ahead we will encounter characters often at heated turning points in their lives and the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
The collection is set in Melbourne and its environs and in Europe. Its multicultural focus is further emphasised in character names. First there is Merri a young Indigenous woman who lives on the outskirts of Ballarat. She may be named after the Merri Merri Creek that runs into North Melbourne, and is part of the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people. Merri means ‘very rocky’ and aptly it is in this condition that we find her.
Merri has dropped out of school, despite being a clever student, to look after her grandmother (Mamó), her own mother having died. Merri’s part-time job has come to an end. The local boys are beginning to take an interest in her. At this vulnerable moment in her life her father arrives into the picture. He has started a new life and family and wants Merri to come and live with him. Theirs has not been a strong relationship, but Merri is tempted, until she is faced with the problem of who will look after her Mamó, so she must refuse his offer. As her father drives away, she thinks how much better off she would be if her grandmother was dead, a thought she quickly regrets.
The second story, by contrast, is about a nameless character whose turning point is the need to give up his home and farm as a result of age. His wife Jess is dead, and he still sees her everywhere – as he does his dead cat. Jess haunts him even though they had had an unhappy marriage. Well, Jess was unhappy, and had a brief affair as a result. She began to stay over in Ballarat at times and the story her husband put about was that she had run off with another man, but that was not the case. He is haunted because he is responsible for her disappearance.
Other characters in Ceo Bruithne agus scéalta eile are Fluvia, Proditor, Artemisa, Natia, Gustavos, Luciana, Severina, Valentina, and Halima. The stories are heightened as a result of Ryan’s choice of names that evoke Australia’s multicultural heritage at a level that draws attention to language and legend. Language is also a thread running through the collection. In ‘Fuascailt’ (‘Deliverance’), Martin Hant is studying the Iberian language. Another story, ‘Na hÚdair’, (‘The Authors’) is about the search for a book that has been translated into different languages. The translations change the plot, however, in significant ways. Some stories are set in secondhand book shops; in others, books and language are used to bring characters together.
The most striking aspect of Ceo Bruithne agus scéalta eile are those tales of murder and mystery that mostly form the second half of the collection. There is a female assassin, and a part-time private eye who does cleaning on the side; spouses disappear, a dead man’s will is stolen, as is another’s manuscript. Murder is prophesied and covered up. Most of all is the haunting experienced by those who have done the wrong thing or made the wrong choices. They live under a cloud. Ryan sums up one character
Bean a rugadh san oíche agus nár thréig an oíche í (a woman who was born in the night and the night never left her).
The collection ends with the assassin, Valentina, waiting for her flight back to Australia, or is she? She is in two minds whether to return or to head for somewhere in Africa or Iceland. Ryan’s last words leave us in suspense
Í ina suí i measc an tslua. Fógraíodh a heitilt. Déirigh sí. (She sitting among the crowd. Her flight is called. She rises.)
This reader hopes to see more of the intriguing Valentina in a future collection.