One early November evening members of UCC walked through the liminality of twilight towards the Creative Zone of the Boole library to hear some readings. As darkness fell beyond the windows we heard Eílís Ní Dhuibhne read her story Goldfinch in the Snow. Slightly deaf, as I am, I heard the title as Goldfinch and the Crow.
This would, in my view, have been an equally potent title, as will become clear.
The story concerns a young Bulgarian woman, Darina, who is living and working in Dublin, and, on New Year’s Eve, waiting to meet her Irish boyfriend, Mark. He is late, ‘was always late, that was an Irish thing’ (53). Instructed by Mark to meet him at the party, which he may attend, she stands at a bus stop by Tara Street Station until it becomes clear that no bus will arrive before another year begins. She is stuck in a sort of limbo. Later in a taxi, anxious about the cost, she finds herself at much greater risk. She is drugged (etherised?), raped and then murdered. Goldfinch in the Snow is a reversed nativity story. There is no room for Darina at the inn, but it is a story of death rather than birth, of despair rather than hope.
Ní Dhuibhne uses colour in interesting, if rather heavy-handed, ways. Darina, the eponymous goldfinch, looks like one. She wears ‘high heels and … black lacy stockings’. On her feet are ‘shoes, black patent, strappy, more sandals than shoes?’ and ‘her long black hair [has] the tiny red cap on top … the scrap of yellow silk at her throat’ (54/55). Darina is representative of colour. We hear of the colour of her home town of ‘Golden Beach’ (presumably Golden Sands, near Varna, on the Black Sea) where the sea is blue, the boats and birds are white, and ‘the women in their bikinis’ are ‘like tropical birds’. We hear about the liminal colour of dawn, ‘a pale, milky colour … a pale bluey grey … maybe, pearl blue’ (53/58).
In Dublin, Darina is fooled into a false sense of security by the coloured lights of the Revolver observation wheel at the Point, reflecting in the Liffey so that ‘the river sparkled, pink, green and yellow’ and ‘the city looked like magic in the snow’ (53). It must have reminded her of the wheel at home.
At this point, Ní Dhuibhne foreshadows the outcome of the story, ‘it was a bitter night, the north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will poor robin do then, poor thing? (53).
And the snow-clad city of Dublin is not friendly to Darina. It freezes her toes. The taxi-driver interrogates her about her provenance, asking if ‘there was work in her own country’ and then explains that he has ‘nothing against foreigners’. After all, he states, ‘the Irish had gone everywhere looking for work so who were they to criticise anybody? (53). Later, Darina wakes from the drug haze to find herself on ‘asphalt’ which is ‘hard and freezing under her thin coat’ and notices in ‘the snow … something red glittering, and that is maybe her red cap. Or maybe it is her red blood’ (57). The ominously meterless taxi, shelters a man who is ‘all in black, black shirt and black hoody and black jeans, black as a crow’ (56). From the moment she enters the taxi Darina feels ‘a black arrow’ which ‘nipped her somewhere between her chest and her stomach’ (55) and later, ‘[t]he black shaft again, piercing’ (57).
Thus Ní Dhuibhne utilises the familiar black, white and red of the Gothic. And, although one genre is clearly the fairy tale (referencing, in particular, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and reminding the reader of Angela Carter‘s collection The Bloody Chamber, with its trio of red riding hood stories and its horror story The Snow Child) the key genre of Goldfinch in the Snow is modern Irish Gothic.
Gone are some of the conventions, such as the supernatural, familiar to readers of nineteenth century Irish Gothic. This is a thoroughly modern tale, an urban tale, and one whose victim is not a female representation of Ireland. Here, Ní Dhuibhne, presents a male predator who is Irish, whilst the victim is Eastern European. Ireland is not kind to Darina. She is underpaid and has just had her pay cut.
Her boyfriend, is always late, and has absented himself to his family over Christmas, leaving her stranded. He fails to arrive at the Tara Street rendezvous. During the summer, Mark deserted her for a holiday, with the result that she felt as if ‘she hardly existed’. Using an Irish cadence, Darina states: ‘[b]arefoot she’d be, without him, her feet frozen, her heart frozen, the whole country of Ireland a frozen meaningless place’ (54). Ireland, it appears, is inhospitable to immigrants, a point argued by the current Journalist of the Year, Michael Clifford, in his piece ‘Looking away is a betrayal of who we are‘ in the Irish Examiner on 17th December 2016.
When Ní Dhuibhne read the story, although this incident is not in the published text, an Irish woman approaches Darina at the bus stop to tell her that no bus will come that night. Only she helps Darina, even if just by giving information. Goldfinch in the Snow is an excellent example of Feminist Modern Irish Gothic. But it is also a political statement about the need for compassion and generosity. As such it’s an ideal Christmas story.
Carter, A. The Bloody Chamber. Gollancz. 1979.
Clifford, M. ‘Looking away is a betrayal of who we are’. Irish Examiner. Dec. 17. p19
Ní Dhuibhne, É. ‘Goldfinch in the Snow’. Surge: New Writing from Ireland. Brandon. 2014.
Ní Dhuibhne, É. Goldfinch in the Snow. Reading. Creative Zone, Boole Library. Nov. 8 2016.
Perrault, C. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Paris. 1697.