Robert Walshe

Robert Walshe is the author of the novel Wales’ Work, published last summer.

Paley’s Planet

Robert Walshe, 17 April 1986

I have been asking myself lately why reading collections of short stories should be a slog, and I think I have found the answer. It’s the problem of the rich man with a closet full of new shoes. Rich men, as we all know, do not buy a single pair of shoes at a time; they buy ten different models, and in order to distribute them equally throughout five houses in various parts of the world, their hard-pressed valets find themselves staggering out of the shops with something like fifty pairs, if I have done my sums correctly, and that is where the trials begin. Ah, the blisters, the bunions, the saddlesoap. The additional expense of pedicure. A reviewer confronted simultaneously with three polished collections of stories is in much the same fix. I am speaking here of Mavis Gallant, Rachel Ingalls and Grace Paley, all ladies in a world where some of us try hard to be lads, and short stories written by ladies are little different from shoes: they need breaking in. During the course of the past two months, I hobbled dutifully between my various estates with all three under my arm. No sooner had I got used to one than I was obliged to try on another. Seduced by a pretty cover, I picked up Rachel Ingalls first. Three of a Kind contains, as one might expect, three stories, each with a tendency to run to fifty pages, although one falls short. The first of them bears the ominous title ‘I see a long journey’, and game for anything I set off. ‘Flora had met James when she was going out with his younger brother, Edward.’ Promising, because you know instantly from this that however well Edward might have done in the sprint, James is the one for the long haul. And so it turns out. ‘He had had many girlfriends and mistresses, naturally.’ Naturally. We are on good, solid ground here, striding confidently along to the side of experience. Besides, James is the one with the money. If he doesn’t care for Flora at the end of fifty miles, he can always go out and try on another. Flora, for her part, doesn’t love James but is unable to think of a reason to turn him down.

Diary: Bumping into Beckett

Robert Walshe, 7 November 1985

One of the great advantages of living on the offshore island otherwise describable as the landmass of Europe and Asia is that by so doing one may avoid all direct contact with the English literary establishment, which I have nonetheless managed to enter with the publication of a novel called Wales’ Work. In Paris, where I have lived even longer than Graham Greene, avoiding literature is not on. Whether he chooses to or not, the Parisian swims in literature the way his motor-car bathes in traffic. It is not possible to round a corner on a Paris street without running pellmell into an author, a publisher, or a nègre – a ghost writer. But the foreigner can be spared all real involvement with literary Paris if he is determined enough about the language. My advice to all who come here to live is simple. Don’t speak it, ever. Make them come to you. They will then put you down in their minds as yet another English oaf, of whom there are far too many already, thereby sparing you everything you are not spared when you join Eng Lit.

Thirty Years Ago

Patrick Parrinder, 18 July 1985

Like The Virgin in the Garden (1978) to which it is a deeper and darker-toned successor, A.S. Byatt’s Still Life has the classical English narrative setting of a generation ago. Apart from...

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