02 Aug Book Review: ‘Female Lines’ edited by Linda Anderson and Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado
It will come as no shock to our avid readers (or infrequent viewers) that Dr. Donnelly and I love to talk about Ireland. Since we both lived there for over 5 years, it holds a special place in our hearts. When I was visiting in October 2017 for a conference, I happened upon Linda Anderson and Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado’s edited anthology ‘Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland’ and knew it was a book close to Abbey Research’s heart. The anthology is a follow-up to 1985’s groundbreaking ‘The Female Line: Northern Irish Women Writers’ and includes a vast collection of short stories, poetry, photography, drama, and essays from a thrilling range of Northern Irish women.
When I sat down to write this review, I struggling to think how I could cover such an expansive range successfully. The truth with anthologies or collections is that works that spoke to me, might not speak to others. Furthermore, how can I possibly review over 30 separate contributions. Instead, I want to spend a few words talking about the necessity of women-driven and women-focused publications, even in 2018. Published in 2015, the co-editors argue that the 30th anniversary of ‘The Female Line’ felt like the appropriate time to revisit conditions for women in Northern Ireland. They wrote that recent feminist and women’s rights movements in Ireland ‘begged the question of how much has changed or stayed the same in terms of scope and opportunity for women authors from Northern Ireland?’
Though the 30+ year ethno-national conflict permeates many of the contributions, humans are complex creatures, and the pieces cover the full range of human emotion and experience. Published in a period where Ireland and Northern Ireland were celebrating significant centenaries relating to the First World War and the founding of both states, the role of women during those historical period and the inclusion of their voices in contemporary settings are front and center. Stories told about men, women, children, and even eggs, from a women’s worldview is an important and necessary addition to Northern Irish literature.
The stories express the core of our four intentions for 2018: bravery, creativity, pragmatism, and curiosity, for without all four of these concepts, the literature would not sustain nor be able to connect with readers. As Ireland and Northern Ireland find themselves immersed in such a reflective period, considering both their historical legacies and how those legacies are celebrated, remembered, and documented, it certainly seems an appropriate time to evaluate women’s roles in these processes.
You don’t need to be a scholar of Northern Ireland or the conflict to understand all of the contributions, but a working understanding of Irish history, culture, and a bit about the conflict would help. For my money, Roisín O’Donnell’s heart wrenching exploration of grief in ‘Wish You Were Here’ and Heather Richardson’s ‘All the Rules We Could Ask For’ are top contributions in the short fiction section. Rosemary Jenkinson’s essay on the challenges for women writers in ‘The Hijacked Writer’ is brilliant. Moyra Donaldson’s ‘Mare,’ Leontia Flynn’s ‘The Radio,’ and Kate Newmann’s ‘The Wounded Heron’ are standouts in the Poetry section and every one of the essays taught me something new and challenged me to have a different perspective.
Dr. Donnelly and I both often talk about strong women leaders, and that is why I wanted to include this book review on our blog. Many of the women in this anthology were involved in the original ‘The Female Line’ which marked some of the first publications for women in Northern Ireland. Abbey Research expends a lot of energy focusing on gender equity, representation, and inclusion, and this collection goes a long way toward rectifying those imbalances in Northern Irish and Irish literature.