Harte is a genuine master, moving from tales that
recall Aesop and La Fontaine to the Latin American
surrealists. While asking us to “eat the fruit of the
tree of imagination”, Harte demonstrates how the story
may reach into the deepest fortresses of the human
soul. Here is an Ancient Mariner taking the reader by
the ear and leading him into strange territories where
he suddenly recognises himself and is astounded. We
are all called to be witnesses – to love, pain, the
horrors of war, the failure of the imagination.
There are stories here that are set to
be classics, like ‘Murphy in the Underworld’, ‘Queen
B’, and ‘A Message to Sparta’, and there are stories
whose lyrical pitch and rhythm approach the condition
of song, such as ‘Turfman’ and ‘Birds’. An essential
collection for anyone still touched by the Irish short
Marvellous opening material on the state
of the short story in prospect and retrospect ….
Jack Harte has been delighting readers
for a couple of decades with his unique brand of
symbolism and mischief. His imagination is wild, but
tethered in a taut diction to give it credibility. A
story that begins with the words, “It came as a
pleasant surprise to Murphy to find that he could
leave Hades at all,” could be deemed to be sailing
very close to wind, but he pulls it off.
Harte’s stories in their matter-of-fact
referencing of the preternatural and supernatural, and
in their blending of the fantastic and the mundane may
be seen as affiliates of Magic Realism. However, Harte
instinctively resists definition and its concomitant
limitation. In an entirely entertaining and
provocative prefatory piece, ‘The Storyman Interview’,
Harte speaks of the straitjacket of Cork Realism on
Irish story writing …. His use of language is
inventive, and often startlingly illuminating of an
individual character or situation.
If you do one thing this week - Ponder
‘Painter’, one of the short stories in the excellent
collection, entitled ‘From Under Gogol’s Nose’, by
Jack Harte, the inspirational founder of the Irish
In ‘Birds’, a unique adaptation of the
myth of Mad Sweeney, Harte is at his most
iconoclastic, investing the yarn with poetic form.
Fearless artificer. Forever pushing the boundaries. In
his blending of the magic of myth with realism he has
fashioned a fiction that is truly magical. Sound
plotting, cracking dialogue, and credible
characterisations do the rest.
Each story is a powerful evocative
voyage which forces the reader to contemplate his/her
Harte is an excellent storyteller. His
stories are wonderfully varied. Deep emotion, wisdom,
and irony, all feature strongly. ‘A Message to Sparta’
is as eloquent an expression of opposition to war as
you’ll find. …. ‘Gelding’ opens with “You asked me
whether sexuality is a bridge or a barrier between men
and women.” The story that follows is truly shocking.
This collection will make new converts to the
The form is so near the poem that it
revitalises not only the prose form, but also the
narrative poem format, indeed fusing the two until it
could be either. The modern themes complement the
ancient truths explored, thus enhancing the reader's
enjoyment … In this work Harte explores the
possibilities of the short story form with more
confidence and more success than most living writers.
It is still the hardest form to conquer, but Harte is
clearly a master of it.