Young Writer Delegates: Review of ‘Rallying Cry: New Voices In Irish Fiction with Hilary Fannin and Elaine Feeney’
Authors Elaine Feeney and Hilary Fannin, in conversation with journalist and broadcaster, Edel Coffey, made for an enlightening discussion of their novels’ moral backdrops and how their work grapples with life’s uncertainties.
Hilary Fannin’s The Weight of Love was created using characters Hilary had built over the span of her career as a playwright and journalist. Her novel, a triangulated love story told across two timeframes, jig-saws fragmented memories together in an intimate meditation on how experiences, once lived, become long-standing memories cemented in the present, forming the bedrock of our lives.
Elaine Feeney’s As You Were is a story which hinges on her protagonist, Sinead, maintaining her terminal illness as a secret kept from her husband and three sons. Elaine’s story began taking shape when she was ill in hospital and her auto-fiction soon spiralled into a motley of fictional characters, where the overpowering voice of Sinead took charge.
This idea of “female” writing – as new voices pulsating within Irish fiction – brings notions of autonomy, motherhood, marriage and the psychology of family roles. Both writers have skilfully intertwined the complexities of reconciling oneself to existing as an individual within a couple, or as an individual within a family, and it isn't something often explored in contemporary fiction.
Elaine and Hilary’s conversation was a thought provoking deep dive into what translates into affecting fictional literature, particularly in their exploration of how female protagonists can be – and in both their cases, have been – viewed as dislikeable when they act against the cultural grain of societal norms.
Both writers bring to bear a sense of moral intensity, defined by our reactions to their female protagonists acting “unmotherly”, and their work brilliantly alerts readers to any deep-seated expectations within marriage and parenthood.
When we follow Elaine and Hilary’s protagonists, we are contextualising female identity in a prism of storytelling which leaves a profound stain – an undeniable nudge to investigate inwardly – on why and how we are stirred into the judgement of women. As Hilary says: “It’s not a fictional character’s job to be a likeable.”
Both writers make the case for unlikeable literary figures acting as a corollary of the impeachable, cultural standards women are held against.
Are we attached to the actions of our fictional bedfellows as a mirroring of our own characteristics; which, in their essence, are fragments of shared experiences lived by each of us? In the words of Elaine: “We’re seeing the inner lives of the character, and much like reality, that isn’t always going to be lovely. Our interior world is complex and it’s a complicated space.”
Elaine and Hilary’s books are, indeed, a rallying cry; one that calls for an understanding of the messiness of our internal lives – both fictional and real – and calls to question the facets of ourselves we shield from others, and above all, from ourselves.