Graveyard Clay: Cré Na Cille
I downloaded this book onto my kindle months ago, when The New Yorker published an article entitled "The Irish Novel That's So Good People Were Scared to Translate It." Deemed the most important work of Irish literature by many, and heralded as a masterpiece, Cré Na Cille was not accessible to those who did not read Irish. Now, it is. A translation by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson - published this patch March - makes the text accessible for the rest of us. The plot of Ó Cadhain's story does not really exist. The entirety of Graveyard Clay is conversations between those buried in an Irish graveyard. The plot moves forward only when someone new is buried. The dialogue is filled with gossip and feuds and politics. I'm going to quote the New Yorker article, because it really convinced me to read it --
All of the characters in “Cré na Cille” are dead. They are not ghosts or spirits but rather chattering, coffin-bound corpses, buried in a graveyard on Ireland’s west coast during the Second World War. They have left behind a world of rural hardship—a place where poor, Irish-speaking farmers eke out a living selling seaweed and periwinkles and coaxing potatoes out of rocky soil—only to find the bitter squabbles and petty pretensions of their villages continuing unabated in the ground.
The plot (kinda) revolves around one woman, Caitríona Páidin, who is newly buried. Caitríona is the biggest gossip and absolutely despises her still-living sister. At many points, it becomes confusing and difficult to follow. As the translators wrote in the introduction, since the narrative is "entirely of dialogue" it "was bound to present challenges." The humor is definitely dark, and full of references to death. As Caitríona says at one point:
I'm not that sort of person, Muraed. I'm no gossip. One thing about me, anything I saw or heard, I carried it into the graveyard clay with me. But it's no harm to talk about it now that we're on the way of eternal truth.
In a footnote, the translators wrote Slí na Firínne, the way of truth, is a common Irish phrase for the afterlife. It's weird to think that the book is an imagining of the afterlife, where nothing really changes from life. The gossip, feuds, flirtations, grievances -- they all remain. Super-engaging at many points and really challenging to follow at others.... but I still think Graveyard Clay is a worthwhile read.