Saturday, June 16, 2012

Portobello Notebook by Adrian Kenny 

"Seeing things ... hearing things ... trying to write things. That would be his life, as Harry’s life had been buying junk and trying to sell it on. There would be no change now."

After too long a silence Portobello Notebook, a collection of short stories, marks a welcome return to the written word by Dublin writer Adrian Kenny. Set for the most part in and around Portobello and it’s environs this collection, which spans thirty years, charts the narrator, who is based on the author, as he comes to terms with the life he’s leading and his own particular place in the world.

In order to understand his own standing the narrator must first interact with characters who in some way have missed out on life. They’ve lost sight of their dreams or else have watched as they vanished about them. Happiness eludes them and they flounder in a disaster which for the most part is of their own design.
At times these characters annoy the narrator. They invite him into their homes and after half an hour he can’t wait to get back to his wife. On other occasions he is jealous of their freedom, as they revel in their Bohemia he is tied down in quiet domestic bliss.

This is very much the case in the story "The Tea Cloth" where the narrator visits a neighbour, who is also an old lover. Her boyfriend has just left her and she lives alone. Working as a part time waitress she harbours ambitions to become a painter. Her work in horrendous and according to the narrator "She breathed out an air of failure, which bored him."

In "Harry" an old Jewish junk collector, who is an invalid and until recently lived alone, visits the author at home. Harry’s house was burgled, he was assaulted, and a number of valuables stolen. After a number of hours the author leaves Harry home, to a house, which like Harry, has fallen into decrepitude.

"The Lower Deck" introduces us to Triona, another former lover and old neighbour, who has died to cancer. Like many characters Triona, a dressmaker and perennial rebel, had seen her plans for life go awry. Kenny tells us that she’d been wild like all the children of the 1960’s who resembled "butterflies fluttering against the windowpane". She immigrated to Barcelona where she remained for a number of years. Her dreams didn’t work out and she eventually returned to Portobello, where, as an adult, she was still stuck fluttering inside.

Despite the various scenarios, and however bad their situations, the writer has a basic sympathy for his characters. As they drift along annoy, pester and bother him he respects and attempts to empathise with their lives. "In New York" he visits Joe, an old friend, and pities him as he flounders under an overpowering wife. While in "Kestrel and Starlings" he observes as a young woman’s marriage falls to pieces around her.

By the end of the collection the author has accepted his lot. He has collected all his characters and listed their stories is in notebook. He has realised his mistakes and is happy both with his wife and the life he is leading in Portobello.  


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