Sean O’Reilly

Life
1969- ; b. Derry; ed. St. Columb’s; moved to London in late 1980s; travelled in Europe and took creative writing degree at Univ. of East Anglia; living in Scandanavia in the 1990s, where he had a dg. (b.2000); issued Curfew and Other Stories (2000), tales of the supernatural, a debut collection; issued Love and Sleep (2002), a novel set in Northern Ireland, and listed among 50 greatest Irish novelists in Irish Times; The Swing of Things (2004), contains “Love and Sleep” and “The Dove”; lives on N. Gt. George’s St., Dublin; issued Watermark (2005), published by Stinging Fly Press of Declan Meade; his agent is Jonathan Williams.

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Works
Curfew and Other Stories (London: Faber & Faber 2000), 174pp.; Love and sleep: A Romance (London: Faber & Faber 2002), xvii, 199pp.; The Swing of Things (London: Faber & Faber 2004), 300pp.; Watermark (London: Faber & Faber 2005), q.pp. [first issued by Dublin: The Stinging Fly Press, 156pp].

Also contrib. ‘Playboy’ to Caroline Walsh, ed., Arrows in Flight: Stories from a New Ireland (Dublin: TownHouse; UK & US: Scribner 2002), pp.107-28.

Miscellaneous, extract ‘from Love and Sleep’, in The Dublin Review , 4 (Autumn 2001), pp.21-25.

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Commentary
John Kenny, review of Curfew and Other Stories (Faber & Faber): contains eight stories, viz., “The Charmer”, “Rainbows at Midnight”, “Skull Stick”, “The Good News” [‘Things were drawn on the walls … new creatures, unknown and gnarled, half-born things and the drawings looked like lairs for them […] and these things were out wandering the streets and would return and lapse back into the walls’]. Kenny notes ‘a remarkable consistency of mood and uniformity of effect’ and speaks of stories as ‘cloaked in bleakness which is so complete that it is thrilling rather than cynical’, but also remarks on some inconsistencies in character and vocabulary. (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Aug. 2000, q.p.)

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Liam Harte, review of Curfew and Other Stories (Faber & Faber), 174pp.; cites “A Charmer”, “Portraiture”, “Rainbows at Midnight” [‘I never slept with her and I don’t think I wanted to’]; reviewer notes that ‘each faltering attempt to connect with others seems merely to confirm the protagonists in their existential loneliness; as the narrator of “Skull Stick” puts it, ‘it’s only the pain that connects them’; also quotes ‘the intricate turmoil of so many lives’; author b. Derry; reviewer remarks on freshness of insight and description brought to bear on disaffected subjects and praises intellectual depth and maturity of the collection. (The Irish Times, 2 Sept. 2000.)

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Bibliocentric: ‘The Swing of Things […] focuses on Noel Boyle, a man haunted by his past in Northern Ireland, and hanger-on Fada, a street performer and drifter with a talent for trouble./ Boyd is trying to start over, amidst a Dublin of late-night call shops, Russian gangsters and a bohemian student life in which he doesn’t quite belong. Having served time for paramilitary activities, he is wary, on edge and hungry for something he can’t quite name […] O’Reilly’s dense language describes the alienated misfits, dreamers and losers who seek oblivion in pubs, parks and bedsits of a resolutely 21st century Dublin. O’Reilly’s portrait of two lost men and the city they inhabit is uncompromisingly existentialist, angry and (sometimes) bleakly humorous […] rank and often vicious underbelly of post-Celtic Tiger […] not […] particularly likeable or enjoyable […] Stylish but hollow.’ (Review online.)

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Ideas Factory (N. Ireland): ‘[…] O’Reilly’s passion for street life was sparked during his childhood days. “We were just never allowed in the house as kids. Our time was spent outside talking and telling stories. The whole outdoorness of Derry has stayed with me ever since - great talkers passing on the folklore by word of mouth.” / That tradition of talk together with the ground-breaking work of Scottish writers like James Kelman, Alan Warner and Irvine Welsh, spawned a desire in Sean to write in his own voice. “We don’t all have to sound like we’re from the South East of England to work well as writers,” he reflects. / With so much time spent gadding about the Derry streets, Sean had little time for books until he was 16. “I grew up with some faith in God. Then crisis hit in my teens when I started to question everything.” / In search of answers, Sean started to read and write poetry. He also got hooked on late night Channel Four films by the likes of Fellini and Tarkovsky. “It was the bleak mid-80s and I was drawn to poetical film makers. I got my hands on some equipment and started shooting shorts - ten minute films of young willing actresses wandering the streets with me voicing my poems over the top. / But Northern Ireland in the 80s was not an option for a young person in search of a future, least of all in film and writing. “There wasn’t even a book shop or a cinema in Derry back then. Everyone was taking the boat to England or beyond. You had no choice.’ […; online].’ Also speaks of ‘the goodness of girlfriends’ and having a daughter in Scandanavia in the 1990s.

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John Kenny, ‘Enough to make Molly Bloom blush’ [review of Watermark], in The Irish Times (21 May 2005), Weekend. ‘[…] The singularity of Watermark, particularly in the Irish context, should not be leavened however. Sexy, erotic, risqué, lecherous, salacious, pornographic: these are the appropriate yet approximate assessments. Participatory - in the detailed accuracy of observation - rather than voyeuristic, calculated rather than facilely abandoned in its depiction of the conscious prostrations the sexualised human is capable of, this novel is lusty rather than simply lustful. While sex is to some extent portrayed as a creeping distraction, wants and needs that are “deeper than dreams” are granted a de-sublimated, flesh-affirming actuality (“Love is not a story”). At no point in the voracious rutting does Veronica appear more animal than human; despite the transports of bodily excitement (“We wanted out of our skins”) the yearning is never allowed to take flight from the corporeal female moment.’ […] In all his fiction O’Reilly is serious to the bone in conception and execution. There is no vanilla writing in the sex scenes here; equally importantly, neither is there the older wink-and-nod nor the newer tickle-me-bollix sex of some Irish fiction. At the more tame scenes, Molly Bloom would blush. In even her down moments, Veronica’s earthiness is in full seed: ”With a cup of tea, Veronica sits in the garden and waits for the grass to eat her, the birds to peck out her eyes, the slugs to slide between her toes. The autumn is coming, the wind and storm and rain that were supposed to mark his return. The thick jelly summer heat has sprouted little tails and swam away, all her dreams turned into frogs lost in the mucky back lanes and hopping stupidly across the motorway.” / O’Reilly has never been concerned with endearing his characters to readers, but, while Veronica is as emotionally fraught and messy as his other principals, this phantasmagoric piece of prose-poetry is ultimately, despite a searing end, a moving celebration, beyond mere exoticism, of one woman’s bodily appetites. Read and reread and reach for your superlatives: in all senses, Watermark is a sheer physical experience.’ (Photo. port. by Ros Kavanagh.)

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Molly McCloskey review of The China Factory, in The Irish Times (28 April 2012), Weekend, p.10: ‘[...] On the whole, the stories concern themselves with those quiet cataclysms that reshape our most intimate worlds, something glimpsed or overheard, or a truth long within but never quite acknowledged. They are largely rural stories. There are pots of tea, the bleat of lambs, wlaks down the fields. But it is as much the restraint of the prose and its quiet rhythms that give the work a rural feel as it is the subject matters, not itself hugely reliant on the countryside. [...] A recurring theme is that of the disappointments embedded in long marriages, the unmet needs never voiced, the “secret thoughts, the unspeakable yearnings”. There is a preponderance of middle-aged people shadowed by what is missing or lost in their lives. But while the stories are thematically and stylistically of a piece, and are all crafted with care, there are a few clear standout. The very best of them have dignity and a quiet confidence that bring to mind the stories of William Trevor.’

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Notes
Bio-date: var. b.1971 - as formerly recorded here.

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