Certain American States by Catherine Lacey review – piercingly good short stories

Love, loss and the missed connections of family life are restlessly observed in this profoundly playful collection from the American writer

A sentence, in English, is as long as a piece of string. You can keep going so long as you don’t arrive, so it is as much about deferment as delivery. The long sentence is an open road: our pleasure comes not just from the sights along the way but also from the pace of the trip, the writer’s ability to change tack from clause to clause, to spin, twist, add, qualify and generally dodge syntactical mortality. It is often funny – not because of the content, so much as the rhythm, the sense of freedom and avoidance, of dancing between the full stops. Catherine Lacey’s stories are bark-out-loud funny in a way that makes the reader feel a little odd. Much of her work is about pointlessness. Characters ...

William Trevor: ‘An acute observer with an outsider’s eye for detail’

Anne Enright remembers a tender and compassionate chronicler of small town life This is the news cycle, now, when a great writer dies. On Monday, just after 3pm, Penguin Ireland announces, on Twitter, the sad passing of William Trevor, at 88 years old. Thirty minutes later email and phone requests are sent out by Irish and British media for tributes and comment. At 6pm, the Irish Times online publishes an impressive roll call of Irish writers who pay real and heartfelt homage to someone whose work has clearly meant so much. There is no hesitation. Everyone is at their desk. Each author highlights an aspect of Trevor’s work that mirrors their own hopes and concerns, and a picture emerges of a writer who, in the faceted transparency of his prose, allows us to see an entire tradition. An hour later, the obituaries, lurking for some months – or years, perhaps ...

Anne Enright: In search of the real Maeve Brennan

Those who knew Maeve Brennan described her as stylish or Irish; she went from celebrated New Yorker writer to obscurity in a nursing home. But her short stories, lovely and unbearable, live on Maeve Brennan didn’t have to be a woman for her work to be forgotten, though it surely helped. She did not have to become a bag lady for her work to be revived, though that possibly helped too. The story of her mental decline is terrifying for anyone who works with words, who searches her clean, sour sentences for some hint or indication of future madness, and then turns to check their own. Brennan is, for a new generation of female Irish writers, a casualty of old wars not yet won. The prose holds her revived reputation very well, especially the Irish stories. These feel transparently modern, the way that Dubliners by Joyce feels modern. It is ...

My writing day: Anne Enright

‘I am at the stage where everything is connected to this book, I keep bumping into it. I love this feeling’ 9.00 Cup of coffee on the night table. Thank you! 9.20 Wake to drink cup of cold coffee. I am in Brooklyn. I have recovered from the jet lag, the winter vomiting bug and the stress of getting us all here, but it is still a bit of an adventure opening my eyes. I lie there, and try to figure out how to get my dressing gown out of the laundry basket upstairs without getting out of bed. Not as easy as you might think. Continue reading...

A return to the western shore: Anne Enright on yielding to the Irish tradition

Suffering a touch of midlife madness, the author found herself drawn to the dramatic west coast of Ireland and a way of writing she had always resisted – one with a strong connection to her past

In the spring of 2012 we took a long rent on a little house in the Burren, on the west coast of Ireland, with a view down to the limestone flats of the Flaggy Shore and across to the Aran Islands. This is a wild and beautiful part of the world. Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory all wrote about the islands; Heaney and, especially, Michael Longley also about the Flaggy Shore. It is an iconic landscape of the Irish national revival.

Perhaps it was the change of location, but it was one of those times in my life when I wasn’t entirely sure who I was any more. Every day I would walk ...