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William Wall reviews Kevin Doyle's newest short story collection







william wall

William Wall is a novelist, poet, and short story writer. He has published four novels, most recently This Is The Country, which in 2005 was long listed for the Man Booker Prize and shorted listed for the National Book Award. His short fiction and poetry have won many prizes, including the Seán O'Faoláin Award and the Virginia Faulkner Award. His most recent book is a collection of poems, Ghost Estate.












do you like oranges

Do You Like Oranges?

Kevin Doyle, 2013

eBook, $1.53 as a Kindle Edition

Buy from Amazon





The best story in this slim collection is also the longest and the title story. ‘Do You Like Oranges’ is set in Cork during the period of the Hunger Strikes and concerns a young man who falls into the clutches of what we used to call “the heavy gang”, a group of Gardaí who used brutal physical interrogation techniques. The arrest of the young man, the interrogation, the physical violence and the dénouement are rendered in credible detail. Suspense is generated by the contrast between the pitiful state of the prisoner and the jocular, almost surreal behaviour of the interrogators, but also by a story told in counterpoint.


This is the story of Ricardo, a Chilean friend of the young man, who was tortured during the military coup. We know, from the opening line, that Ricardo has committed suicide. Through their relationship, told not so much in flashback as in parallel, we learn that Ricardo has betrayed his comrades. The question is did the narrator do the same? And why, in another strand of this complex story, is the narrator back in Ireland, hanging around West Cork? It’s worth waiting for the answer.


There is a strong political consciousness in this work. The author is an anarchist and a political bloggera rarity among Irish writers who tend to keep their politics to themselves. The stereotype of the harmless local policeman is not for Kevin Doyle. His story demonstrates the police as the enforcement arm of the elite. We never learn whether the narrator was politically active beyond distributing leaflets about Bobby Sands because it doesn’t matterfor his captors the boy is on the other side and therefore an appropriate object of their contempt. That the police are, in essence, the repressive arm of the state is not an easy thing for citizens to face, yet time and again we see the police acting to control political dissent by the application of an almost casual violence. ‘Do You Like Oranges’ makes that repressive function explicit. By linking Ricardo’s story (the Chilean Coup, the torture and disappearance of state-held detainees) with the narrator’s experience in Ireland, the universality of the police as a repressive force is impressed upon us. The story does not posit an equality of suffering (even with recent revelations, The Troubles do not reach the sheer mathematical level of barbarity of Pinochet’s Chile), but it suggests that the roots of repression are very close to the surface of capitalist states.


The second story, ‘But Your Mother’, makes the same point without really amplifying it in any way. Narrated in the second person, it tells of a man’s attempts to get the Special Branch to stop harassing his mother. By the end we know that the harassment is political as well as personal. A fine story in its own right, it suffers by comparison with the first. There is a thin line between publishing a set of stories linked by theme and a set of stories that say the same thing. Selecting a story with a different subject matter or setting might have helped here.


In ‘Down the Tunnels’ we enter the mind of a detective who has invented a new kind of interrogation technique involving his wife, and again we are in the same territory, a similar theme (the tunnels involve torture), although the treatment is lighter.


This book is self-published. The three stories have all appeared in literary magazines (Pulse FictionLondon; The Cúirt JournalGalway; and The Stinging FlyDublin) but would have benefitted from the eye of a professional book designer. That said, the Kindle format is difficult to do well and is certainly not design-friendly. But needs must. It is unlikely that a commercial publisher would be interested in this kind of worknot because it is not good, but because it is uncomfortable. In particular, the present moment is shameful for the publishing industry, with no-one, not even the “small presses” prepared to take a chance. More and more writers are turning to self-publishing by e-book or print-on-demandBrian Lynch, for example, has just self-published his latest book The Woman Not The Name.


In Do You Like Oranges we have, in effect, a chapbook of storiessurely an ideal buy for someone commuting to work (no reading and driving though!) with an e-reader of some sort. Depending on the length of the commute, three stories could see you to work and home again. Nobody knows what this market will produce, but it’s worth experimenting.


The acts of writing and publishing are not without weight such that the state feels it necessary from time to time to control them through censorship or by selective patronage. Above all, writing helps to establish the terms of public awareness. If you began to read this review with a comforting image of the police as guardians of the public peace, be aware that Kevin Doyle intends to shake your certainties. One of the questions these stories ask is: Whose public peace is being guarded? In these days when liberal capitalism has plunged millions into poverty, demolished entire states at huge cost in health and life, caused mass emigration and shot its own cherished theory of the free market in the arse, Do You Like Oranges is the kind of reading we need.



©2013 William Wall



Author Links


William Wall homepage

Several poems from Wall's poetry collection Ghost Estate

William Wall (Munster Literature Centre)






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