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MERVYN WALL: APPRECIATIONS AND REMINISCENCES
Brian J. Showers, © August 2017
In March 2015, I had the pleasure of bringing back into print Mervyn Wall's much-loved novels The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey. The novels were originally published in 1946 and 1948, respectively, and occasionally reprinted over the years - though always disappearing from bookshop shelves shortly thereafter. Despite occasional reprints, the Fursey novels were, moreso than not, difficult to find. And yet the books still managed to attract admirers and quickly became classics.
The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey were a bit of a departure from Swan River Press's usual fare of ghost stories and the uncanny. Still, Wall's novels featured elements of the supernatural, but more importantly, they had both heart and a wicked sense of sardonic humour.
The two novels feature the episodic exploits of the hapless Brother Fursey as he bumbles his way across a medieval Ireland that never was. Along the way he encounters a fantastic procession of cacodemons, hippogriffs, imps, furies, and other dreadful creatures, not to mention the elegant gentleman in black. Return of Fursey features such characters as Fursey's unhelpful familiar Albert, George the Vampire, Sigurd the Skull Splitter, and the wealthy Festus Wisenuts. Each rolicking episode comes fast, one after the other; the two novels fit seamlessly together and are best enjoyed in succession.
The Wall family gave their support and access to their Mervyn Wall archives. Michael Dirda, a long-time fan of the novels, wrote a pair of introductions for our new releases: "The wise might want to acquire two sets of this new edition," he wrote, "one to keep and one to lend." The Fursey novels are just those sort of books. In just over a year our own edition was sold out.
While we didn't have an official launch for the books, on 25 September 2015 we held an event at the National Library of Ireland. The event, entitled "Mervyn Wall: Appreciations and Reminiscences", was hosted by literary agent Jonathan Williams, and included contributions from Wall's friends and colleagues: Patricia Craig, Val Mulkerns, and Maurice Harmon. David Rowell was on hand to give readings of extracts from Mr. Wall's works.
At the end of this event, I announced the forthcoming publication of Mervyn Wall' sole short story collection, A Flutter of Wings. First collected in 1974, the stories in A Flutter of Wings span Mervyn Wall's entire writing career, dating back as far as the 1940s. Told in an easy style, tales such as "They Also Serve . . . " and "Adventure" offer the same satirical sensibilities found in Wall's classic novel The Unfortunate Fursey; while darker tales such as "Cloonaturk" and "The Demon Angler" are not without a hint of the grimly sardonic. In addition to an introduction by Val Mulkerns and illustrations by Clare Brennan, this new edition boasts the uncollected Jamesian fragment "Extract from an Abandoned Novel", and Wall's early play, Alarm Among the Clerks, a savagely hilarious and ultimately brutal depiction of office life.
"Appreciations and Reminiscences" was kindly filmed and edited by Mark Sheridan of Black Lodge Films. Now, on the eve of the reprint of Mervyn Wall's short story collection, A Flutter of Wings, I'd like to share with you this memorable evening.
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