Short Story Reads: Night in Tunisia and Other Stories by Neil Jordan

Over the years my shepherd like attitude to books has waned. No longer does my heart bleed if a page has a dog-ear.

Placing a book under a heap of dozen other books to straighten out the dog-ear, applying steam iron on the page, binding books with cardboard hardcover, designing a separate book cover with newspaper cut outs, book title and author name inscribed in a stylish handwritten blue scrawl – these adolescent pastimes no longer hold me.

After losing a British Library withdrawal sale copy to a colleague (the perils of lending books), the epic search for an elusive copy lasted half a decade. Finally, an UK-based rare books website airmailed an almost brand new copy in an otherwise listless 2020, getting to me with no tracking system in place over 30 days, unscathed through rain, lockdowns, sanitizers, with lots of suspense and uncertainty. 
So, I still do love books to a fault then. 

The 1950 born Jordan first established his reputation as a contemporary Irish novelist and later on as an Academy Award winning film maker.

His written work is still published from time to time. Jordan was yet to delve into film making when this particular collection was first published in 1976.

Now on to…
The stories in this collection prominently deal with thoughts. Interesting, observant inroads are made into the intangible, invisible thing – the mind.

There are no convenient endings as racing, random, nostalgic, angry, happy, lonesome and wondrous thoughts are revealed, much like scraps from a dairy entry.

The opening story Last Rites comes across like an experimental piece of abstract cinema, the effect in the tumult of words is disturbing.

Seduction starts with the promise of mischievous expectation, then washes up like a sea wave with the boil of pent up sexual desire.

Sand is another unpredictable tale – what seems to be a harmless squabble between a younger brother and the elder sister leads to a shocking event involving a gypsy and a donkey.

Mr. Solomon Wept is an observant, cold note on the effect of betrayal in marriage on a middle-aged man.

Night in Tunisia is easily the happiest, free flowing story of the collection. Bathed in the perpetual sunlight that childhood seems to be, sea salt and breeze dissolves to the sounds of jazz and a father-son bridge to an alto saxophone.

In Skin, we see how engaging words can vividly describe an Irish woman’s mundane life along with an incident that displays her vain hope for change to occur.

Moving on…
A brief, dreamy, drowsy rambling of a woman apparently doused in alcohol during a party, Her Soul gives us a drab look at the female wondering and theorizing where her soul has slipped away to. 

Outpatient tells of strained husband-wife relations, and how both quietly realize that their relationship is meant to smother away.  

In Tree, the view of a whitethorn tree sets off intense nostalgia and the urge to change in a woman driving past it.

The book culminates with a beautiful story –  A Love.

Apart from mind reading, the sense of place and occasion are strong here. A young emigrant returns to Dublin to play out the last strands of his love affair with an older woman, even as the funeral procession of President √Čamon de Valera passes by.

To a great degree, the tales in Night in Tunisia and Other Stories hold a mirror to how much we identify with our minds, replicating the chaos that swirls within our seemingly sane heads.

(first edit – May 28, 2013
second edit – June 30, 2020)

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)                                                                                     

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