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Review: Dubliners 100.

Often, pilule it’s the simplest ideas that are the best ones. Such is the case with Dubliners 100. Spearheaded by editor Thomas Morris and released a few months ago to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of James Joyce’s first published (and most accessible) work, see a collection of 15 short stories set in and around Dublin, Dubliners 100 sees contemporary Irish authors rewrite a story each. While a simple idea can be the best idea, it can also be the hardest one to get right.

Such is the case with Dubliners 100, which can be described as a mixed success. A number of the stories, such as John Kelly’s take on “A Little Cloud”, Paul Murray’s redux version of “A Painful Case” and Mary Morrissey’s version of “An Encounter” are merely rewrites of the original story, only changing the setting to modern day. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Dubliners is regarded as one of the finest short story collections in the world, so essentially just rewriting the original text word for word but in modern setting seems pointless. I mean why bother reading an updated version of a story, when you can go back and read the far superior original? Secondly the updated versions lose steam, because no matter how captivating or interesting the writing is, anybody familiar with the text knows how it’s going to end. These stories, therefore, verge on being redundant at times.
Dubliners 100 excel’s with the writers try and capture the spirit of the original text. This can take the story into a new direction, without changing the nature of it as a whole. Belinda Mckeon’s version of “Counterparts” is a perfect example of this. The original story deals with the effects of alcoholism, and McKeon substitutes alcohol for a more 21st century addiction, the internet, which is shown to have just as catastrophic an effect on its protagonist’s life. Elsewhere, Elske Rahill transports the eponymous protagonist from “A Mother” from a concert hall setting to a school, with devastating effect, complementing the hollowness of the character in Joyce’s original. In “Araby”, John Boyne changes the object of the main characters affections, and in doing so leaves the reader with a final image that is every bit as desolate and lonely as the original story.
A number of the stories in Dubliners 100 stand out as glaring missed opportunities. “Grace” and “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” are the two stories that explicitly delve into religion and politics, two things that are still very relevant to Irish life, but both Sam Coll and Eimear McBride shy away from these themes. Likewise with “Eveline” the normally excellent Donal Ryan ignores the theme of emigration and leaving home, something that we have become all too familiar with in recent years. Peter Murphy had the thankless task of rewriting what is viewed as the best short story in Dubliners (and indeed, one of the best short stories of all time). “The Dead”. It’s hard to fault him for changing the story completely, giving us a brief tale set in a post-apocalyptic Ireland, but at the same time it just comes across as bizarre.
Every story in Dubliners 100 is, in essence, an experiment, with varying degrees of success. However given Joyce’s reputation as the most experimental author to use the English language, its hard to think of a more fitting tribute.

– Adam Duke