There are the stories which are essentially tales, anecdotes, the kind you can imagine yourself re-telling. Others are atmospheric pieces in which the narrative line is muted ... Bernard MacLaverty is a master of the second sort of story, writing it better than almost anyone else ... MacLaverty is a poet of loneliness, of people making do in hard times ... There is not a dud in this collection. Each story demands the reader’s close attention. Each invites a second reading which in every case will deepen one’s understanding. There is humour in most of them too, even if it is sometimes the humour that comes from the sad and weary recognition that this is how life is. MacLaverty has a fine sense of place and is excellent on weather, both ways of establishing a story’s mood. He has never been an author who sought the limelight, but by shedding a sympathetic light on difficult moments in people’s lives, he enriches our experience of each other.
Blank Pages is an older man's book, the prose simpler than in previous work, and somehow both more urgent and more elegiac ... The stories are largely preoccupied with loss, past or impending: of parents and children, of memories and home, of possibilities, inspiration and illusions. But with the prospect of every loss comes the imperative to bear witness, create a record, or, at the very least, to see, truly see ... it is the poor Catholic father, gathering blackthorn sticks when he gets his scratch, who provides perspective, and perhaps a key to MacLaverty's Blank Pages: 'As the light faded, everything became very sharp against the sky.'
Each of the stories is set against a different backdrop and MacLaverty imparts fascinating details about a whole host of areas—plant life, art, sculpture, music, cinema—while simultaneously giving an extra dimension to his principal characters, rooting them in real life. The author paints women very well ... One of the most powerful stories is ‘Soup Mix’, which is about a son who on a business trip to his hometown decides to fit in a visit to his mother in her nursing home ... It’s full of little details that are as true to real life as they are hear-trending ... Despite the sad themes, the stories are full of warmth and wit ... Older readers will enjoy the nostalgia for some long forgotten traditions...while all readers will enjoy the almost cinematic prose ... A master at work.
... it’s for his short stories that MacLaverty is generally regarded as a master and there are some outstanding examples in this new collection, most of them distinguished by his uncanny eye for the telling detail ... There are some misses and it’s a pity that one of them is the opening story ... This is conventional to the point of being trite. Indeed, the Belfast stories are among the weakest here, as if the author has been away for so long that his sense of the place is from another era. Elsewhere, MacLaverty can make compelling stories from the most prosaic and seemingly inconsequential of incidents.
... a deft and life-affirming collection by a master of the form ... The 12 stories in the new book are centred on the Belfast writer’s age-old preoccupations: love, loss, endurance, resilience, war, violence, the toxicity of perceiving human beings as 'other'. They are bright bullets that lodge, written in spare but achingly accurate prose. MacLaverty is known for his precision and the realistic details that bring his stories so memorably to life. Many times during the collection I wondered how he came upon certain details, that seem, cumulatively, to be beyond the imagination of the writer, beyond research or Google ... The range of the collection is remarkable. Different eras and backdrops abound, each one told with aplomb ... soft touches of humour appear throughout ... a gem of a collection that fully immerses from beginning to end.
... even darker than usual but still shines with literary accomplishment ... As ever, MacLaverty is excellent on the reflex intensities of family love, especially protectiveness towards children. Another solace is the power of art. The Schiele story is irradiated with the painter’s piercing visual perceptions ... Family affection and the arts are consolations, but what most relieves the sombre content is the vitality of MacLaverty’s writing. With an almost uncanny ability for capturing nuances of emotion and speech (idioms, giveaway phrases), he also paints the everyday world afresh ... There are many black pages in Blank Pages, but it is also full of wonders.
John Cheever famously observed that, when reading a page of good prose, 'one can hear the rain'. This is certainly true of Blank Pages, where the sounds, scents and textures of the characters’ worlds are not merely described but made present for the reader, subtly, effortlessly, on every page ... What we are noticing here, however, is not just the soundtrack of the rainstorm, but also a prevailing atmosphere, a sense of impending danger in both the life of this one man and the wider world ... MacLaverty offers a deeply affecting portrait of how normal grief works, but he also obliges us to consider what happens when the usual apparatus for mourning is absent ... Reading MacLaverty, we inhabit the characters’ lives from the inside out, arriving at an exquisitely intimate sense of common humanity as we share the everyday mysteries they inhabit.
The care and deliberation show. MacLaverty’s method might be summed up in the name of the Australian wollemi pine (here in the story 'Glasshouses'), from an Aboriginal word meaning 'look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out'. He is a matchless observer of human details both trivia—the trickiness of trimming the nails on your right hand—and significant ... MacLaverty’s stark novels Lamb and Cal gave way to more capacious work...and these late stories show similar amplitude ... MacLaverty prefers to keep the reader company rather than leaving them to their own devices, but the result is no less satisfying.
Virtually every one features death and decay in some form, whether implicitly or explicitly, giving a profundity to tales that might otherwise feel less weighty than some of his earlier work ... The motifs may be decrepitude, decay and a slow march towards the inevitable, but there is also wry humour to be found throughout Blank Pages, an acknowledgment that death is no different whined about than withstood. This fine collection reaffirms MacLaverty’s place among the greatest short story writers of his generation.
Aging, illness, and death provide the recurring chords in this satisfying concerto of new stories ... MacLaverty brings humor, sympathy, and an unshowy eloquence to the conventional short story. He knows what disquiets the aging—the strange noises that jar a home’s familiar silence; the suddenly absent grandchild—and the anxieties of those with an elderly parent ... MacLaverty's mastery is evident throughout, in carefully chosen details, in the way he illuminates the inescapable need to create ... A fine collection by a true craftsman, thematically rich and deeply humane.