Multitudes, by Lucy Caldwell, is the writer’s first book of short stories. All eleven share a common schema: resilient Belfast women coming through trauma. The breezy style of writing sits in total contrast to the depressing subject matter, which deals with rampant suicide, road traffic accidents, infant death. The standard view of female sexuality is upturned in ‘Poison’, where a young girl pursues an older male teacher, and stumbling teenage desire is treated humanly. Belfast is wonderfully evoked in reader’s minds through details like the education system – alien to anyone in the Republic – and Northern phrases like “wise up” abound.
Some of the stories feel too brief. ‘Through the Wardrobe’ zips through a lifetime of suffering towards the end. ‘Inextinguishable’ focuses on a posthumous Amazon order and circles around the cause of the main character’s daughter’s death, although this narrative avoidance is closely aligned with that of the mother. Both stories were first broadcast on BBC Radio and restricted to 2,200 words each, which may be why they feel cut-off and incomplete. Caldwell takes pains to observe the restricted vocabulary of the narrators through their limited experience or age, but pulls it out of the bag in the final story. The fiercely-written events here are close to Caldwell’s own experience, narrated from a writerly standpoint, invoking different literary works, googling the timely phrases she can’t quite recall. A zippy, affecting collection.
Words: Eoin Tierney