BLANK PAGES And Other Stories by Bernard MacLaverty (Cape £14.99, 272 pp)
BLANK PAGES And Other Stories
by Bernard MacLaverty (Cape £14.99, 272 pp)
Kindness and loss are the keynotes of these note-perfect stories. MacLaverty’s prose is spare, unfurling the moments of crisis in the worlds of his characters with a quiet musicality that is unshowy and entirely beguiling.
War, physical frailty and fear darken lives, but there’s also a fundamental striving for generosity and understanding in the hearts of fallible human beings.
The collection opens with A Love Picture: Belfast 1940 as a mother’s grief is transformed to elation when the home-going manager of the local cinema opens the locked doors and runs the newsreel which shows her son’s beloved but burned face on a Galway dockside, a survivor of a torpedo attack on his ship. It’s so delicately done; emotion, conversation, thoughts, all conveyed with a simplicity that is incredibly moving.
The same tender touch is in evidence in Wandering, where dementia and its demands affect a daughter’s life as she copes with her mother’s nighttime meanderings and daytime forgetfulness with hard-won humour and exasperation; while in Sounds And Sweet Airs, a harpist hushes grumpy, garrulous, seasick passengers to a ‘listening-quiet’, the gripes and begrudging of shared space forgotten in music which sounds like the sea, in notes that cascade like waves.
OBJECTS OF DESIRE
by Clare Sestanovich (Picador £14.99, 224 pp)
The heroines in Objects Of Desire are filled with unspecified yearning and ennui.
Estranged from the plot of their lives, events and encounters are background to the real drama — that of incessant interior investigation of their emotions and motivations. These American women live in small rooms in houses full of strangers, drop out of college, abandon artistic endeavours and endure marriages with world-weary resignation, yet the stories are fascinating; smart, sparely written, tamped down emotionally and keenly alive to the burdens of modern life and all its expectations.
Their condition is neatly summed up by the mother in Old Hope who worries that her daughter will gradually deflate — ‘a quiet, unremarkable hissing, into a case of unfulfilled potential’, as the daughter watches a glow-in-the dark solar system unpeel from the ceiling and reminds herself not to make everything into a metaphor.
In By Design, a once-successful graphic designer, whose life was upended by a sexual assault claim, is reminded of all she’s lost when asked by her son to make his wedding invite, while in Security Question, an outbreak of lice and an open relationship see girlfriend Georgia, unexpectedly alone, brushing her newly clean hair, radiating with light and static ‘for no one else to see’.
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