Faber and Faber (1999), 209 pages
Irish Cancer Society Charity Shop, Rathmines, €1
Antarctica is one of the darkest collections of short stories I’ve ever read. Keegan’s stories are a pack of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. They lure you into the innocent belief that you are reading a story set in a “normal” environment but then you suddenly realise that something shocking is happening. The title story concerns a woman who decides to embark on an extra-marital fling. The story opens with a cozy Christmas tone but who ends up with a woman fighting for her life. Keegan is exceptionally skilled at creating shockingly believable scenarios and finely drawing the details of male and female relationships.
If there is a criticism of Antarctica it is that the unrelenting darkness is, at times, almost too much. The shift in location between Ireland, England, and the USA is somewhat jarring and affects the tone of the collection too. The closing story, Passport Soup, is about two parents dealing with the fallout of the events surrounding the disappearance of their only daughter. Despair, bitterness, and blame permeate the tale. This story is only eight pages long and it’s almost as if Keegan realises that there is a limit to how much she can make her readers suffer.