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Antarctica Hardcover – April 27, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The chill reaches to the bones of this debut collection of 15 stories by Keegan, an acclaimed young Irish writer whose precisely articulated, clear prose illuminates her native land. In Keegan's Ireland, it is eternally winter, and familial relations provide neither appeasing warmth nor protection. Her mostly female narrators dwell on the cusp of self-knowledge; they have ruefully observed the example set by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers "flat-bellied, temperamental women who've given up and call it happiness" and are slowly feeling out new possibilities for their own lives. Rebellions range from the small and symbolic (a mother takes the wheel of a car and leaves her husband stranded) to the wider-reaching (a woman decides to keeps her illegitimate child). Such victories cannot keep the harshness of the world at bay and are of little help, for example, to the couple whose daughter is kidnapped. Yet Keegan depicts the ascendance of a generation of women who "can butt in and take over, rescue and be rescued" in an Ireland on the verge of a self-generated wave of feminism. The setting of several stories in the U.S. (where Keegan did her undergraduate work) is indicated only by a smattering of details such as baseball hats and fast food; they might as well, and with greater effect, have been set in Ireland. While Keegan's imagery occasionally bears the clear brand of the M.F.A. program, these moments are few and are outweighed by the restraint with which she deploys such imagery, and by her stern refusal to fall back on anything that might resemble a happy ending. (July) Forecast: Keegan is a comer in Ireland, where she won both the William Trevor Prize and the Rooney Prize in 2000. A keen and unflinching observer, she will appeal to fans of Roddy Doyle.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Irish author Keegan's reputation precedes her by leaps and bounds. First published across the pond in 1999, this collection won the William Trevor and Rooney prizes and has been called Raymond Carver-esque by the British press. True, these 16 tales, which range from Ireland to the southern United States, are carried by simple and compound sentences with smatterings of dialog, but, just like the human body, a short story requires more than a skeleton. What's lacking here can only be described as emotional intensity literal blood and marrow; protagonist after protagonist fails to come to life. The title piece sets the tone: a middle-aged housewife visits London in search of Christmas presents for her family and a one-night stand but ends up handcuffed to a stranger's bed. Although the reader wants to experience her terror, they will feel indifferent to the hell she's condemned herself to. Antarctica is a chilly let-down, but followers of contemporary Irish literature should still keep their eye on Keegan. She's young and is currently working on a potentially promising first novel. Heather McCormack, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st American ed edition (April 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871137798
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871137791
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,772,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To begin with, Keegan's title story is a killer, a dark classic. She's great, like the Irish all-stars (Roddy Doyle, Colm Toibin), but also some of our Americans, particularly contemporary masters like Edward P. Jones and Mary Hood, with whom she shares that that deep, rueful knowledge of place and people, and habit of telling stories that are rich as novels. Anyone who loves good short stories and/or Irish writers will appreciate Claire Keegan's Anarctica.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Claire Keegan is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her short stories each present a world of people who are at risk, taking chances, living lives under pressure of real or imagined horror or stress. Occasionally there are moments of happiness amidst the sadness. Her people take full advantage of these moments, swallow them whole as if to live on them for a while.

While I didn't rate this collection as high as Walk the Blue Fields: Stories, there are some stories here that I loved, particularly "Burns". And of course I absolutely loved "Walk..", so it is no insult to come in second. "Antarctica" was Keegan's debut collection and obviously spoke of much more to come.

A strong 4 to 4.5

Now I wait for Keegan's next work.
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Format: Paperback
Antarctica is Claire Keegan's first collection of short stories. Keegan was born in 1968 in County Wicklow. She has an MA in creative writing. She has won numerous prizes for her short stories. She lives in rural Ireland and is a very highly regarded teacher at short story workshops.

There are sixteen short stories in the collection, some of which have been previously published in literary journals. I think the best way to post on a collection of short stories is through looking at the individual short stories in the collection. I will talk about six of the stories, all of which were just great works.

"Antarctica" is the title story in the collection. It is really an amazing story. It is about a woman who decides she wants to find out what it would be like to have sex with a man other than her husband so she calmly and coldly makes up an excuse to be out of the house for the night (business takes her away) and picks up a man beneath her in social status, goes back to his house and spends the night with him. The tone of the story is dead pan still but you know something terrible is going to happen to this woman and you are for sure right. I will not any more as it is such a strong ending. I will say that male readers of this story whose wives have cheated on them might relish the ending a bit to much. It is a kind of precautionary tale for the straying wife.

"Love in the Tall Grass" is another story about marital infidelity. This is a story about a single woman, Cordelia, who has a very long affair with a married Doctor. The doctor has a strong sexual fixation on the woman and she is deeply in love with him, or as much as her damaged soul allows her to be.
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Many of Claire Keegan’s stories read almost like fables. Her characters include a happily married woman who “wondered what it would feel like to sleep with another man”, a pining woman who waits years for a romantic rendezvous with a married doctor and a crass, homophobic millionaire who strips the joy from his achieving stepson’s life.

Put another way, her characters can seem emblematic, and that’s the good and the bad of it. There are at least two stories that could easily fit into a “Best of Short Stories” anthology. One is the eponymous first story. In Antarctica, a seemingly satisfied wife and mother is determined to see what a fling with another man is like. “It was December; she felt a certain closing on another year. She needed to do this before she got too old.” The story positively vibrates with menace and we are reasonably sure that this story will not end well. There’s almost a Hitchcockian feel to it.

The second story, Passport Soup, is equally mesmerizing. A man named Frank Corso has lost – literally lost – his nine-year-old daughter, shattering his wife. The depths of unrelenting grief – and the eventual unveiling of what the title means – is devastating and authentic.

A third story, Quare Name for a Boy, about a writer who returns to her rural Ireland roots, has these great lines: “They don’t know the half of it, don’t know the disguises I made for them, how I took 20 years off their hard-earned faces, washed the honey-blond rinses out of their hair, how I put them in another country and changed their names.”

Ms. Keegan’s prose is beautifully descriptive – perhaps a little too descriptive for my subjective taste.
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Claire Keegan is a master of what I would describe as "contemporary fin-de-siecle Irish gothic," but unlike previous masters of the spine-tingler (eg: Bram Stoker), Keegan finds the horror in the mundane and the terror in the banal. These stories are dense and finely wrought. They capture all facets of Irish life, from the urban grittiness of dear, dirty Dublin to sprawling yet claustrophobic emerald countryside. To its immense credit, I found the stories absorbing but able to withstand numerous breaks in the reading process, the true merit of any collection. Like Joyce's <i> Dubliners, Antartica </i> depends on aporia and subtle revelation to great effect.
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