In her first collection of short stories, Cumbrian novelist Sarah Hall brings to bear all her celebrated lyricism and depth of vision. Each story unfolds through a vivid, uncensored female voice driven by a powerful desire for intimacy. A bored housewife visits an escort agency in search of a brutal encounter; an African holiday spells the end for a young couple. Hall's stories appear minimal but possess a lingering intensity that seems to plough a furrow directly into the unconscious, planting a seed that flourishes long after the final page.
This haunting quality is thanks to her skill in evoking physical landscapes through visceral and evocative prose. Hall utterly persuades you of the stench of an abattoir drifting over the Cumbrian fells, the ‘bright skin-light’ of hawthorn berries in the night, or the tacky sensation of blood on the skin. There is ‘a correctness here, a sensual formality,’ as an unnamed narrator writes of a Scandinavian lakeside retreat that threatens to rob her of her lover in the terrific ‘Vuotjarvi’.
With echoes of Jeanette Winterson or AM Homes, even the most domestic scenes are riven with a sense of encroaching wilderness and a barely contained animal instinct that threatens to tip over into violence. These are stories that make the world a stranger place, just as stories should.