‘This is not a debut in the usual sense: a promise of greater things to come. There is no need to ask what Danielle McLaughlin will do next, she has done it already’: Anne Enright
Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin is the new Irish Times Book Club choice. Over the next few weeks, we will explore this superb collection of short stories, publishing interviews, features, critiques and a story from the collection, culminating in a podcast interview with the author.
Although we published her Merriman prize-winning short story, In Through the Skin, in March 2013, I first encountered the author’s work when she was shortlisted in a readers’ competition as part of our After the Fall summer fiction series in 2013, which was won by fellow author Mary O’Donoghue.
You can read her entry, All The Dead Birds, here. It is an indicator of the calibre of her debut collection, however, that it did not make the cut, unlike Those That I Fight, a work we commissioned in 2014 as part of our This Means War series.
The Book Club Podcast: Dinosaurs on Other Planets
Since then she has had two stories published in the New Yorker within 12 months, In the Act of Falling and the title story of her debut collection, which is published by Stinging Fly, whose roster includes such talented writers as Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, Claire-Louise Bennett and Colin Barrett.
Her book was launched last month by fellow author Anne Enright, the Laureate for Irish Fiction, who declared to laughter that Dublin was the only city where the phrase “a hotly-anticipated short story collection” could be spoken with conviction. “This is not a debut in the usual sense: a promise of greater things to come,” she said. “There is no need to ask what Danielle McLaughlin will do next, she has done it already. This book has arrived. I think it will stay with us for a long time.”
Enright praised the sap that rises through McLaughlin’s writing and admitted that while she prides herself on recognising a writer’s style, McLaughlin’s versatility outwitted her when she read her entries to the Davy Byrnes and Merriman competitions. Listing The Stinging Fly’s distinguished roster of writers, Enright joked: “No pressure then”, but McLaughlin can more than hold her own.
In McLaughlin’s stories, her publisher writes, the world is both beautiful and alien. Men and women negotiate their surroundings as a tourist might navigate a distant country: watchfully, with a mixture of wonder and apprehension. Here are characters living lives in translation, ever at the mercy of distortions and misunderstandings, striving to make sense both of the spaces they inhabit and of the people they share them with. A woman battles bluebottles as she plots an ill-judged encounter with a stranger; a young husband commutes a treacherous route to his job in the city, fearful for the wife and small daughter he has left behind; a mother struggles to understand her nine-year-old son’s obsession with dead birds and the apocalypse.