Something happens to you when reading the shelter of neighbours by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. You think you are reading a regular book of stories, each one its own universe, drawing you in, seemingly familiar, language accessible, expressive and hypnotic. Yes, you get that. Yes, you have felt that way, too.
But, by the second story, you are submerged in a Dubliners-eque experience. In fact, you are moved, changed. You are convinced you are truly getting a glimpse of other people’s lives and can think what they think, feel what they feel. Almost a voyeur.
You are invited into a typical, ordinary Irish suburb and allowed a glimpse behind the blinds, neighbor by neighbor. Éilís has a keen observational eye and an Irish way with words. In the shelter of neighbors she leverages both full tilt.
Her stories include:
“The man who had no story” – A man tries to retire and write his story.
“The literary lunch” – Power struggles occur in the midst of a literary board lunch.
“Illumination” – A woman on an artist’s retreat meets an unusual family in the woods.
“Taboo” – An au-pair on holiday learns how to canoe.
“The Yeats” – A woman covets a new stove.
“It is a miracle” – A woman considers the nature of relationships.
“Trespasses” – A woman prepares to visit her son abroad and has an episode.
“The shelter of neighbours” – A woman must decide between kindness and pique.
“The shortcut through IKEA” – A woman looks for a lost love in IKEA.
“The Sugar Loaf” – A woman climbs a natural monument.
“The moon shines clear, the horseman’s here” – A woman faces her past while taking care of her ailing mother.
“Red-hot poker” – A woman loses her husband and is befriended by neighbours with an agenda.
“Bikes I have lost” – A girl recounts her lost loves.
“The Blind” – A girl remembers fundraising for a school of the blind.
Each story is a slice of Irish life, in which Éilís explores the many nuances of shelter, including “a thing that provides cover”:
She can hear feathery music floating across the water from someone’s garden, its source sheltered by reeds, by trees. – from “The Yeats”
“A refuge, a haven”:
Every day I felt I was on the brink. That the next day my brain, my self, would fill with light; that something wonderful would happen. – from “Illumination”
“The state of being protected”:
Faced with saying goodbye to me as I set off on my bike, she became an ordinary fussy pussy-cat of a mother. – from “Bikes I have lost”
There are no real answers, only the stories that connect neighbours, meandering thoughts, questions, the Irish vernacular, the “stick” which is “grand.” The way in which her characters give you the blank stare fix you with all manner of possibility.
Éilís captures all this and more of her native Ireland, steeped in storytelling for its own sake:
It takes her a while to get accustomed to the flow of words, which seem to pour out of her mother’s voice in a stream, not monotonous but unbroken, fluent as a river.
This is what she does all day.
She tells stories. – from “The moon shines clear, the horseman’s here”
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne was born in Dublin and attended University College Dublin where she studied Pure English and folklore. Her novel, The Dancers Dancing was shortlisted for the 2000 Orange Prize for Fiction. She writes stories, novels, plays and children’s books in both English and Irish.