Out of the darkness, into the light.
The Pleasant Light of Day by Philip O’Ceallaigh

The Pleasant Light of Day “Growing older people found dull ways to make life bearable. Or perhaps did not find any way.” The effects of the passage of time is not a new theme, but it is one that feels new in the hands of Philip O’Ceallaigh. In this, his second short story collection, he uses language with a breathtaking clarity, effortlessly taking the reader from a cliff top in Inis Meain to a busy kerbside in Cairo. The beauty is in not only in O’Ceallaigh’s prose but in the layers of insight that are peeled back within each story and through the collection as a whole, so that reading them in order feels important.

Many of his characters are those who do not find any way, nameless and displaced, unable to find what they’re looking for despite their maps and the miles they cover on trams and buses and on foot. In teeming cities, on islands, or in deserts, they are equally alone. O’Ceallaigh slows us down to live the rhythm of their days and feel the inevitable closing in of their nights.

Solace is sought in others and sex features heavily.  O’Ceallaigh is unflinching in his description of an act often reduced to the purely physical, a brief attempt to connect with another that can become the loneliest of all.

One of the joys of the collection is O’Ceallaigh’s versatility, his ability to surprise and lighten what can be heavy material with biting humour.  In The Alchemist, he has fun with his take on the popular fable, following Pablo’s quest across the desert with the help of travel company “Hardway Tours.”  In Uprooted, a turning point of sorts,four men fall for a young actress in a Galway theatre, a woman who will impact all their lives and offers a glimmer of hope for one.

This glimmer is magnified in the title story and jewel of the collection, The Pleasant Light of Day, where on a trip to an Egyptian Museum, holding his son’s hand, a father finds his place in the world. The monks in Tombstone Blues, settled in the desert, have also found their place, a sharp contrast with the restless wandering scholar who spends a week and leaves unfulfilled.

In the end, hope wins out in High Country, where for a solitary traveller, a fire burning in the night, “a spark of the sun,” is enough to keep fear away until morning comes. The characters who succeed are those who find light in art or family or religion, it is not the thing itself, but the caring that counts. Crafting beauty with words on a page is clearly something O’Ceallaigh cares deeply about and in this inspiring and sparkling collection, he lights up the dark.