Children's Children: Review

Síofra Ní Shluaghadháin reviews Jan Carson’s Children’s ChildrenIt’s not often that a collection of short stories can create such a vivid set of vignettes, each as perfectly encapsulating as the last. Jan Carson’s second collection is like a trip to an old fashioned cinema; a jumble of greys, blues and muted tones which blend a timeless feeling of loneliness with a post-apocalyptic nostalgia.Set amongst the landscapes of Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the Troubles, all of the characters in Children’s Children are concerned with the effects and influences of legacy. Moving between the past, future and an ever changing present, this collection plays with its concerns, turning our ideas of time and its passing aside in favour of a series of narratives which skew these concepts.What is truly extraordinary about these stories is their robust individuality. Although they are united by theme and place, each piece stands up to scrutiny on its own. These stories are not interconnected, except by theme, but each opening page reveals a voice that, like the landscape, is both familiar and alien all at once.
In Carson’s imagined world, a world of the surreal and the disconcertingly ordinary, every character is someone’s child.
The short story format is, in this case, a strategic choice. It is impossible to become familiar with anyone in ten or so pages. In Carson’s imagined world, a world of the surreal and the disconcertingly ordinary, every character is someone’s child. The collection is concerned with legacies, futures and histories intertwined in the interest of family and memory. These characters are often imbued with the colours of the landscapes described, and yet, amid the heavy weight of histories and legacies, there is, inexplicably, the faintest glimmer of hope.It is possible that Carson represents a new tone in the voices heard in the literature of Northern Ireland, one which is aware of the past, but which is also acutely aware of itself, and the role it plays in the present. It is a style which is very much of its place as tiny details of Northern Ireland are caught in fine prose. And yet, despite its awareness of heritage, it sees beyond the political into the ideas of personal psychology.In essence, Children’s Children is a collection of eye openers. It is a book which takes the familiar, and turns it into something we all recognise, but will never fully understand. It is a book of everyday ghosts and revelations, and a read that will linger long after the closing page.