In organising her selection chronologically, Gleeson has done more than publish an anthology of Irish women writers. She has created an insightful collection of stories that informs as well as entertains when it comes to the topic of women in Irish society.
The anthology opens with Maria Edgeworth’s succinct grass-is-always-greener fable The Purple Jar. While it seems a slow start, things warm up nicely with Frank’s Resolve by Charlotte Riddle —in which the eponymous Frank has a row with himself over the contentious issue of women’s rights — and as the writers move through the 1800s and into the 1900s the stories really pick up pace.
We witness the shift in focus, from the preoccupation with society and class in Somerville and Ross’ Poisson d’Avril and Norah Hoult’s When Miss Cole Made the Tea, to the more introspective and personal subjects of Mary Devlin’s The Eldest Child, as Mrs. Bagot deals with the loss of a newborn child. Mary Costello’s meditation on a love that might have been in My Little Pyromaniac and Belinda McKeon’s words on processing grief in The Long Distance.
A special mention goes to Bernie McGill’s excellent and poignant A Fuss which describes Rosa’s journey from her city life to her home place to bury her father; and to Siobhán Mannion’s beautifully written Somewhere To Be for its crystal-clear depiction of the pull of the Atlantic Ocean. The Long Gaze Back blasts open the tunnel vision often applied to Irish literature and is a welcome addition to bookshelves, both academic and domestic.
This review was first published on http://www.welovethisbook.com.