I’ve been thinking a lot about pubs lately. Been thinking a lot in them, too. Purely for research purposes, you understand. I’ve been pondering the role of pubs in short stories.
There’s quite a few that I’ve read lately: Fjord of Killary by Kevin Barry, Dark Horses by Claire Keegan, and, of course, Joyce’s Dubliners collection, in which the saloon bars of the capital’s pubs feature heavily. I’d say nobody does pub atmosphere and talk like Joyce; he not only places you in the room, he makes you feel like you’re part of the furniture by the end of it.
So what is it about pubs that inspires writers to use them as a backdrop? I have a few theories, if you’ve the time. You might as well pull up a chair and order a drink while you’re here.
Settled? Good stuff.
Well, for one thing, the pub is an excellent location to place a handful of characters. It’s a confined space, perfect for putting these human beings under a microscope and examining them close up.
It’s a place for telling tales (handy that); it’s a place where characters can let their hair down, loosen up, maybe let the mask slip for a bit.
In vino veritas is certainly possible, as alcohol can loosen the tongue, which can make for some fizzing dialogue. Fictional conversation usually relies on people not saying what they mean, so the delicate battle between a character trying to lie but wanting to blurt it all out after a few pints can lead to some delicious tension in a story.
Also, pubs often seem to be covered in a fine mist of melancholy – and I think melancholy is the lifeblood of a short story, at least the ones I tend to write.
And all of human life can be found in a pub: the bragger, the loner in the corner, the diligent worker behind the bar, the laughter, the tears, the quiet stoicism. The list goes on. No wonder it’s such a fertile theatre for fiction.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts on pubs in short stories. You can test them out, if you like, as my latest story is set in a pub. Coincidence, eh? It’s called The Jigs and the Reels, and you can read it here. Go on, you might as well order another while you’re reading it, and maybe a packet of Cheese and Onion.
*PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT* If you’ve got a spare few minutes, why not read another of my short stories, too? Click on the STORIES tab, or here, and take your pick.