‘On The Empty Shore’ by Seosamh Mac Grianna

On The Empty Shore by Seosamh Mac Grianna, 1955

The magic trick:

Portraying the bleak reality of a starving country with a starkness that matches the barren landscape

There is a journalistic adherence to “fair and balanced” in the bleakness of this story. Nothing is sensational. Everything is matter of fact. It’s cold. The land is barren. People are starving. People are dying. The survivors have to clean up the mess. If that reality wasn’t unsettling enough, the way the story remains stark and unemotional about it all is enough to make you feel sick. And that’s quite a trick on Mac Grianna’s part.

The selection:

Cathal went over, and hunkered down on a stool beneath the window. He put his elbows on his knees, his palm to his chin, and he sat there looking at the body. No tear came from him, no sob in his throat. He felt himself a little colder, a little emptier than before, and his heart a little sorer in his breast. If he and the man that was gone had ever spent a while happily in each other’s company, he had forgotten it. He did not recall any of the old man’s peculiar ways, his laugh, or the sound of his voice, or any word he had said, or any deed he had done, such as a friend would like to recall, the little remembrances which sadden the one that is left. He did not think of saying a prayer for the soul which had just torn itself painfully out of that wasted body. He had forgotten God, for it seemed that God had forgotten him a long time ago, ever since the blight came on the potatoes, since the beginning of the bad times. He sat there bruised in sorrow. His soul inside him was like a dark pool, which no stream entered or left, but lay there in a numbing stillness, under a sour coat of slime.

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