Book review: Prosperity Drive

SINCE the publication of the collection of stories, A Lazy Eye, back in 1993, it has been clear that Mary Morrissy has talent to burn. 

Mary Morrissy

Jonathan Cape, €22.03;

Kindle, €11.69

A master of language, she is also a keen observer of human nature.

Her talent confirmed after the writing of three loosely historical books, Morrissy has now returned to the short story form for her latest offering.

The stories, set in Ireland and abroad, span half a century, as Morrissy examines the interlinking lives of those whose have lived in Prosperity Drive, a street in Dublin’s suburbs.

Starring in their own stories, the characters make appearances in others; sometimes playing a substantial role; and other times meriting merely a mention. 

We travel the world with them; we’re taken through the unravelling of marriages, ambitions and desires.

Central to the interweaving stories, and, indeed to Prosperity Drive itself, are the Elworthy family. The book opens as Edel Elworthy lies at the top of the stairs having fallen.

Whimpering, she waits for her daughter, Norah, to rescue her, though in truth she fell on purpose. 

Edel has dementia. Yet she is aware enough to recognise that, for Norah, this could be payback time.

The story flashes back to Norah’s childhood. And to a time when her father, Victor was still alive. 

Just what was the relationship between father and daughter? 

How did he calm her when, punished and truculent, she had been sent in disgrace to the cupboard under the stairs?

The Gender of Cars shows Norah as a teenager, carelessly letting a boy take advantage of her.

Next we meet her at work, in Claims and Rebates, and later, burying her ex mother in law, clearly, with mixed feelings.

And, at the book’s conclusion, we’re back to the present, as, still nursing her mother, Norah performs little cruelties, and then shocks her sister in resentment for her absence.

The prettier, flightier younger sister Trish, meanwhile, having abandoned her first boyfriend, Mo Dark, flees Ireland after another betrayal, and lives a student life in Italy. 

Will she and her elder sister ever be reconciled?

Trish is not the only character inflicting hurt on others; Ruth Deneiffe has grown up embittered; a teacher with few friends, she was once considered a prodigy, and sent to expensive singing lessons; but through jealousy, and an act of omission, she betrayed another girl.

We’re shown a softer side of Ruth in a story called Boom — telling of a sound engineer, who once went out with her. 

The romance could have worked, had she not accepted a snub so readily.

The Devoy household makes for rich pickings. When the maid sticks her head in a gas oven, her young charge Owen, is devastated. His memories of Quinny make his mother despair. 

It turns out that Quinny was a casualty of Ireland’s cruelty to fallen women.

We meet Owen later, on honeymoon with Kim, a Vietnamese, one of the boat people. They’re happy, yet he cannot fully appreciate the trauma from her journey to Ireland.

I simply loved these stories for their diversity, and for the insight into the type of characters not often given space in fiction. And the writing, and language is sheer perfection throughout.

Morrissy’s name isn’t generally spoken of in the same sentence as that of Anne Enright, or Deirdre Madden, but it should be. 

She has the same forensic eye for detail; the same analytical touch, and sleight of language, allied with a quite astonishing ability to get inside her characters’ minds.


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