HOMESICKNESS by Colin Barrett (Cape £14.99, 224 pp)


by Colin Barrett (Cape £14.99, 224 pp)

Pubs, wind farms and a rural field with an empty oil tank are the everyday settings for the extraordinarily good second collection of short stories from the prize-winning author of Young Skins.

Set mostly in Co. Mayo, where ‘dozens of cows stood around in the car park, gormless as wardrobes’ and unthriving facial hair is like ‘scanty lichen’, these conversational, funny, beautifully sad stories are peopled by the disappointed and the lost, as they try to negotiate a truce with the absurdities of life. In The Alps, a run-of-the-mill pub evening teeters towards the impossibly violent when a stranger turns up with a sword.

And the railway tracks ‘travelling like suture towards the horizon’ seem to sum up the failed dreams of Danny, who’s back home after a failed football career (The 10).


by Tove Ditlevsen, translated by Michael Favala Goldman (Penguin Classics £10.99, 192 pp)

Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s wonderful but devastatingly bleak short stories simmer with melancholy and despair; her characters are suffocatingly trapped, a skirl of anguish threatening to obliterate their unhappy thoughts and unfulfilled desires. Ditlevsen’s prose is clear and spare, pared back to the essential task of describing the struggle for an unwon freedom from domestic despair and unsatisfactory marriages, often alighting on the glint of maliciousness in relationships that have headed, inexorably, to the bad.

A crack of heartbreak seems to echo through the stories: an abandoned wife with small children is forced to sell her house far too cheaply (A Fine Business), cats are chased from home (The Cat), and children are separated from each other by their divorcing parents (One Morning In A Residential Neighbourhood).

And in The Umbrella, Helga, a conscientious, ordinary woman, who ‘had shown good longevity at her domestic jobs’, hides housekeeping money to buy a longed-for umbrella, with ‘tiny, adorable silk buttons’, which her jealous, sorry husband Egon breaks across his knee.

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