Tag Archives: reading Irish writers

Yiyun Li discusses two Cork writers


When I travel to a specific country/city, I would like to bring a book connected to that place. For instance, I traveled to London with VS Pritchett’s London Perceived, and to Denmark with the letters of Izak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) sent from Africa to her Danish family and friends.

However, there are two Cork writers whose work have accompanied me on all these trips, as they belong to the second category: writers with whom I have constantly conversed, and I strive for my work to talk with their work. These two writers are Elizabeth Bowen, whom I discovered the last time I came to the festival, and William Trevor.

I was reading Bowen’s Collected Stories on the flight from San Francisco yesterday. And here’s one story, titled I Hear You Say So (what a beautiful title!). The story was about one evening–“this tense and aimless, tired and tender evening–in London immediately after WWII was over.

Since it is a story without a plot, I don’t feel the danger of giving anything away. The story follows several pairs of characters, almost all made anonymous by the darkness of the night, and the vignettes of their dialogues and interactions, harmlessly seeming at times, all of a sudden led to this question: “But can people live without something they cannot have?”

As a reader, I was  caught unprepared by the question. Bowen always does that to you, and once the question is asked, you realize that nothing is as it seems. And that, to me, is the beauty of Bowen’s writing: she makes you look at things twice, and more than that, she makes you understand what you haven’t been able to see when you are looking.

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