by Aliza Prodaniuk
Well-researched, explorative, and poignant, Ann Marie Hourihane’s latest non-fiction book, Sorry for Your Trouble: The Irish Way of Death (2021), meditates on how the Irish handle “death with a unique blend of…the funny bits, the sad bits, and the hard-to-explain bits,” while asking how our death practices inform how we see ourselves.
Hourihane wastes no time digging into her content in an attempt to answer this question. While visiting a hospice, she writes, “I was looking for people who were about to die and were interested in talking about it” (2). From here, Hourihane attends an embalming, she talks to suicide awareness and abortion rights organizations, she follows a team working to locate the remains of IRA victims, and she explores Ireland’s relationship with drug addiction.
What is striking about the content of Sorry for Your Trouble is that no topic is off-limits for Hourihane. Sensitive subjects are deconstructed and laid bare, such as in the chapter “Mothers and Babies,” where Hourihane explores “Ireland’s culture of shame around the children born to unmarried women” stemming from Catholic influences (126).
While examples like this highlight problematic social dynamics in Ireland related to death practices, Hourihane balances this with the witty and sometimes unusual. In the chapter “The Website,” this is particularly evident. The section discusses the website RIP.ie, Ireland’s one stop-shop for all services death-related. The website offers “services that newspapers and radio stations couldn’t, covering the entire country and easily searchable…There are many jokes about the stereotypical Irish mammy scanning the death notices…first thing in the morning and then ringing people up: ‘You’ll never guess who’s dead’” (66-67).
In the chapter “Sources,” Hourihane states that Sorry for Your Trouble is a “work of journalism—a book about how we do death now, based on reporting done over the past five years” (273). While the work draws from a variety of sources, including audio recordings, Hourihane notes that the book’s “most important sources are the people who have spoken to [her] about their experiences and given [her] access to their lives and their expertise” (273). These personal accounts lend an emotional edge to the sometimes rigid and journalistic style of writing.
Whether you are Irish or not, Sorry for Your Trouble speaks to the universality of death. While the audience for some essays is primarily those of Irish heritage, others speak directly to Ireland’s growing multicultural identity. In the chapter “The Body,” Hourihane discusses both the Irish rationale for embalming and the Muslim-Irish community whose tradition of “shrouding a corpse” (76) holds religious value: “The washing of the dead, according to Sharia law is similar to the washing done by the living to prepare themselves for prayer” (76). By making such comparisons, Hourihane’s goal is clear. She is not here to exclude or judge. She is here to document the constantly shifting fabric of Ireland’s death practices.
Sorry for Your Trouble: The Irish Way of Death by Ann Marie Hourihane is overflowing with sensory details with an aftertaste of society’s greatest vulnerabilities. The writing is commanding, and the form and content is engaging. Most importantly, the book “sheds fresh, wise and witty light on a key pillar of Irish culture: a vast but strangely under-explored subject” (Cover copy). As Hourihane unravels her own relationship with death, readers are invited into a space where they can safely do the same. One must read the book to reach Hourihane’s conclusions, but by the end, you too will begin “to look upon death as a companion and true friend” (212).
Hourihane, Ann Marie. Sorry for Your Trouble: The Irish Way of Death. Penguin Books, 2021.
Cover copy. Hourihane, Ann Marie. Sorry for Your Trouble: The Irish Way of Death. Penguin Books, 2021
Aliza Prodaniuk is a writer, reader, and adventure seeker living in Sarnia, Ontario. Her writing has been published in various magazines and journals, exploring anything from science, travel, interpersonal relationships, and beyond! She successfully defended her MFA thesis in September and is excited for new writing opportunities ahead.