The End of the World is a Cul De Sac by Louise Kennedy is a varied short story collection, there is a remarkable gift here and there is no denying that there are flourishes of brilliance in her prose and the structure of the stories; but it’s a collection that I didn’t really get on with, and I am hoping to unpack that a little for you here… there were a few short stories that I really enjoyed and they are mentioned below, but overall I was left wanting on many.
These are the stories that I enjoyed in the collection.
The End of the World is a Cul De Sac – Our protagonist finds herself all alone in a ghost estate once her husband flees from this failed investment and leaves his wife to pick up what pieces remain of the estate and her life. A chance encounter with a stranger gives her a much needed boost and distraction, but the thing about distractions is they only last so long.
In Silhouette – This is a haunting tale of an incident that happened during the troubles, how one moment, one act of violence can mar a whole lifetime as our protagonist seems suffocated in a world where the choices of a few affect the lives of the many. She sees him often, the Silhouetted man.
Wolf Point – Here we have a familial tale that focuses on the love of a father and husband. It’s a powerful story that showcases brilliantly that everyone is fighting a battle you can’t see, that what is on the surface is not what is churning in the undertow of life. Very powerful.
Imbolc – A pregnant mother struggles with her husbands growing criminal empire as he grows cannabis with a vulnerable teenage girl. It’s a perfect portrait of a mother, a struggling mother who’s weighed down with caring for her child whilst also carrying another, her long days of tending to the home chores whilst her husband is away in the barn with this girl cause her mind to run away with drastic possibilities. The voice of the protagonist in this story is fabulous.
Beyond Carthage – Two ageing friends head off on a holiday, one is recovering after having a mastectomy and discovering a secret about her husband. The other woman is bruised from looking being the care giver to her ailing mother. It’s a story about friendship and overcoming the hand your dealt.
Right so on with what I didn’t enjoy.
I found that many of the stories just petered out, they were there one moment and then gone the next and after finishing a couple of them I found myself questioning what I’d just read, in the way that I’d read the words but nothing had sunk in, it was if I’d forgotten them as soon as finishing, which is odd as the one above which I enjoyed I can recount to you a blow by blow account of what happened and include the names of the protagonists etc. there were just a few too many forgetful stories in this collection.
I also found that there wasn’t really anything new in these stories, it felt like I’d heard these stories before, told in a better way, I feel that also because I’d heard them told previously (in some strange coincidence) that the impact of the story was lost because it was inevitable (in my mind at least) about what was going to happen. It’s tough reviewing a collection that didn’t do it for you, but I try to be open and honest, and this is just my view – it’s a piece of art which I am judging with my own eyes, and as they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so don’t just write this off because I didn’t get on with it (I doubt my reviews hold that much power anyway) seek it out and see for yourself.
The last issue and this I have noted in many reviews is the bleakness of the collection, I’m all for bleak, I in fact champion bleak writing (Cormac McCarthy is one of my favourite writers and he is king of bleak), but I do feel that with all that we’ve lived through this last year, all the isolation, depression, stress and the not knowing, that this probably didn’t help with the reading experience. These stories don’t lend themselves well to escapism or escaping ones dire circumstances, instead these stories hold the back of your head under the dark waters that are swirling around you.
The End of the World is a Cul De Sac
is published by Bloomsbury Books
and is available here
Louise Kennedy grew up in Holywood Co. Down. Her short stories have appeared in journals including The Stinging Fly, The Tangerine, Banshee, Wasifiri and Ambit and she has written for The Guardian, Irish Times, BBC Radio 4 and RTE Radio 1. Her work has won prizes and she was short-listed for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award in both 2019 and 2020. Bloomsbury will publish her debut collection, The End of the World is a Cul de Sac, in early 2021. She lives in Sligo, in the north-west of Ireland, and is working on a novel.
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