DUBLINERS 100. A celebration of the original book’s centenary published by Tramp Press, ed. Thomas Morris, July 24, 2014
“Michele Forbes’ ‘Clay’ was a knockout piece… it steps away from the original, tracing out a faintly similar track involving an oblivious and sad hopefulness housed in a doomed character, but differing in the detail: Conor is a fat nerd making his way home after work, only to be mocked by a set of juvenile trick-or-treaters. The story, though, is perfect in its narrowness: in a single journey, we get the entirety of a sad life so succinctly that we reckon Aristotle himself would be pleased.”
Valerie O’Riordan, Bookmunch
Contributors: John Boyne, Sam Coll, Evelyn Conlon, Michèle Forbes, Andrew Fox, Oona Frawley, John Kelly, Eimear McBride, Patrick McCabe, Belinda McKeon, Mary Morrissy, Peter Murphy, Paul Murray, Elske Rahill, and Donal Ryan.
Michèle Forbes on her version of James Joyce’s CLAY
“I first read James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ in 1976. I was living in Belfast (the city in which I was born) and ring-fenced as it was at that time by brutality and bigotry, I still felt that Joyce’s Dublin was an overwhelmingly dark and dismal place: a city where you were free to wander but nonetheless could never find yourself, a city in which you could meet to talk and drink with others yet still remain isolated. Having lived now in Dublin for over thirty years and watched the city change, most dramatically in the last ten years, I was struck in my re-reading of the collection by how Joyce’s city – his centre of paralysis – ended up being a much less desolate landscape than I had remembered it to be. Despite the gloom there is still a sense in the stories of a Dublin in which the characters can define themselves by external structures, be it by the edicts of religion or moral law – their inclination towards it or repudiation of it, and even with a lack of political autonomy ( a glory lost after Parnell has gone) the idea of a national identity still features no matter how contentious or fractured it is deemed to be.
In James Joyce’s ‘Clay’ Maria, the protagonist, is described as ‘a very, very small person indeed’. She is a woman who makes no mark on the world, is timid and downcast, whose meticulous habits form the only measure of her lonely life. A woman of whom everyone seems very fond but who no-one really loves. Reimagining ‘Clay’ in the context of a contemporary Dublin I wanted to describe a life just as circumscribed, in gender, in physicality and in circumstances; a life, like Maria’s, unlived; a life even further in retreat.
Meet Conor: twenty six years old, clinically obese, addicted to his computer, working on a temporary basis for Mr. Wyrzykowski in a refrigeration and catering business on Capel Street. It is Halloween night and Conor takes the Luas out of the city centre to Cherrywood, a satellite estate on the outskirts of Dublin, where he lives with his mother. As much as Maria in Joyce’s ‘Clay’ looks forward to her evening out, Conor, hoping that his mother isn’t there when he gets home, looks forward to yet another evening in by himself. The computer is all he wants. Conor’s Dublin is different. Now the paralysis of Joyce’s city has settled into its groove and become accepted. Now there is a further retreat of the soul, characterised by individual inertia. Conor is a passive recipient of globalised ideas and organised invasive technologies and his sense of himself is governed more by an individual pursuit of the sensory kick than any need to connect on a collective level.
In the original story Maria is tricked while blindfolded during a Halloween game and touches a wet substance – the clay of the title, a symbol of death. The same image is held in the re-imagining of the story but now it’s not part of a parlour room prank, now it’s everywhere, now it’s part of the very ground Conor walks on. The wet clay of his city is stuck to his shoe and he carries it home.”