A L Kennedy's books aren't easy to get into. This is my third book and the result wasn't any different. That does not make it a bad book, on the contrary. Each of these stories are good, some very good. The twelve stories in this collection are something in common. They all follow the plight of individuals ( or couples) fighting their own separation from the other. Some imminent separation, some on the verge of isolation, some even being together has the hidden bridge of separation. All the characters are young/middle aged couple and picked straight out of the daily life. No stories, none whatsoever, has a pleasant ambiance, the gloom and sadness is the feeling in the air. Thus it makes a depressive read, however effective the narration is.
The first story that bears the title of the book, reflects on a couple unable to recover from the loss of their child. Sitting in an isolated cinema hall, alone, Frank looks at the failing marriage with his wife. In an attempt ( final ?) to win her over he even makes a soup for her before her return from the workplace. The attempt however fails after he cut his finger resulting in blood stains all over the kitchen and the soup. Kennedy plays well with her writing here, trying to portray the failure of the relationship as every thing around them is deteriorating. "Wasp"s again about the imminent separation, albeit short . Its the day of the morning when he had to say good bye to his wife and two young sons, prior to his travel on business. But there is clear signals of the widening differences between them and the difference is clearly played through the children. "Edinburgh' again is a superb build up of an affair, coming to an sad end. An affair started at the grocery shop of Peter, took him through the realms of love, only to be disappointed in the end. Here we see a clever writing of Kennedy where she interestingly mix the voice of the mind to the voice of the body. A dual communication technique, one to the outer world and the other to oneself cleverly juxtaposed in the narration, giving it an unknown depth. Another interesting story of the collection is Sympathy. A writing almost flirting with pornography, about an accidental one night relationship in a hotel room. Mostly told in the form of conversations, despite their short lived romance, mostly sexual in nature, separate on a promise of a call and a meeting in near future, with both know is not for real and this rendezvous will end as abruptly as it started. In 'Saturday Tea Time' a young lady recovering in a 'floating tank' remembers the time of the young days where she had witnessed and was subjected to domestic violence.
Each of these stories carry the same line. They are all melancholic, they are all makes one feel for those living it out. The voice here plays a big role, beyond the narration. It's beyond the written words, they are layered and have various undercurrents of humor, sadness and heart break in some form or other. She uses words cleverly, there are metaphors in abundance ( the wasp for example), philosophical undertones ( in Edinburgh, especially towards the end), and social observations. The characters of these stories are tied to their destiny and do not show any attempts to shackle out of them, rather they endure them with somewhat inner pleasure of a defeatist.
A L Kennedy is a brilliant writer, fabulous use of the words and clever mix of narrative techniques. These stories, while the overall gloomy ambiance is a bit depressive, do seek in with their sheer brilliance.------------------------------------------
What Becomes (2009 )
A L Kennedy
Guardian, Telegraph, N Y Times, Irish Times, Independent