Monday, November 13, 2023

Book Review: So Late In The Day— Stories of Women and Men by Claire Keegan

 So Late in the Day is a new short story collection containing three stories previously published separately, written by the Irish writer Claire Keegan. Keegan's preceding work, Small Things Like These, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year, and I am quite elated to have received an advance copy of this collection from the publisher Grove Atlantic through Netgalley in exchange for feedback. As the title suggests, all three stories in the book deal with the relationship between women and men (note the order) and address the gap that exists in them due to preconceived and prejudiced expectations.

The first story, So Late in the Day, begins with its protagonist, Cathal, desperate in his office on a Friday. We get the notion of how deeply in trouble he is when his boss offers him the rest of the day off. Then we see him go back to his lonely house to do lonely things and pet a cat, all the while remembering his ex-fiancee and his life with her. We find out how he lost her due to his clueless behaviour and the mysogenistic strain that is ingrained from his childhood and how he chooses to continue to remain so.

In the second story of the collection, The Long and Painful Death, a female writer takes up residency for two weeks in the famous Heinrich Böll cottage to write her next book. When she has to suffer from an intrusive German professor, she decides to take revenge in a way that only a writer can. The story brilliantly portrays the sense of privilege that is automatically assumed by a man while meeting a woman, even when she's a stranger.

The final story, titled Antarctica, features a married woman who decides to spend a night with a stranger. What begins as a joyful experimentation soon turns into a horrible experience of possessive might. The author uses the image of Antarctica, a strange, snow-filled, and unforgiving landmass that tries to possess and encapture the explorers who dare to conquer it, as a metaphor that captures the plight of our protagonist.

All three stories explore the relationship between women and men and try to decipher the corruption of the interchanges between them from a feminist perspective. Each story examines a specific aspect of it. In the first one, we find that the man expects her to play a certain role that is dictated by a misogynist familial system, which even he isn't aware of. In the second story, it is patriarchal privilege that shows itself in the interaction between the writer and the German professor. The third story captures the element of possession when a man decides that the woman is his belonging without any consideration of her wishes.

The power of Keegan's stories remains in their subtlety. Her concentrated and compact prose makes the reader aware of even the most subtle discontent in the psychology of her characters. Though she is economic in her language and uses no melodrama to augment her conflicts, her stories are sharp and insightful character studies that result in a lasting impact on her readers' minds.

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