Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell

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Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell is one of those collections that you’ll remember for a lifetime, a collection that you remember exactly where you where when you read it – it’s memorable and masterful and proves yet again what a force Caldwell is when it comes to the short story form and why she is one of my favourite writers writing today.

Intimacies recounts the stories of women and over many themes, love, loss, regret, trauma, motherhood, women’s rights to choose, sexuality and many others – it’s a smorgasbord of themes that ebb and flow and which are heart rending as they are masterful. It reminded me of when families made blankets, detailing special moments in their collective lives, the birth of a child etc. Intimacies has been stitched and constructed around this past-time; constructed around peoples lives, intimate moments, each one stitched together to form one body of work, one blanket that offers so much. An heirloom to be passed down through the ages, to each new generation. And that it what this book is, a book to be shared and passed around, bought for friends and families – it’s therapy for the soul and a collection that will stand the tests of time.

There are so many great stories within this collection that it’s too difficult to pick a favourite – many if not all of them left their mark on me, and that is the sign of a great raconteur.

The first story within the collection Like This is a delightfully crafted tale around a mother struggling to deal with a second child entering her already busy life. The depictions by Caldwell are astute and make the story perfectly weighted; those of you that have had two children, even us fathers can relate to our protagonists plight – long days, even longer nights, tiredness eating away at our very bones, the feelings of inadequacy, scalding looks from the public – and that screaming voice inside your head uttering ‘you don’t know what your doing!‘. This story could have gone in two directions and Caldwell masterfully takes us in both before diverting us towards the second, delicately pulling at the reigns before we fall into despair. In doing so she ensures a story that plucks at the heart strings but not before taking us into a strange, eerie mess of what might have happened, what could have happened and possibly what was about to happen. Powerful storytelling, delectable prose and one hell of a knockout story to set the collection in motion.

‘First time round you agonised, laughed in disbelief, joked grimly, about the tiredness. This time there isn’t the energy even for that.’

Mayday takes us into the argument of a women’s right to have an abortion in Ireland. Caldwell should be championed for tackling this subject and for her unflinching account of this most remarkable and shocking story. What makes it strike home even more is that it is based in the here and now, that what her protagonist is going through and the means at which she is doing it could be echoed in bedrooms and toilets across Ireland – bringing home the shocking lengths that some will go to secure some form or abortion. Caldwell gives a voice to the voiceless, and brings home her message in the most shocking of ways – Mayday is deftly simple, yet deeply unsettling and heart rending, detailing in blinding clarity the lengths that some will go to secure a way out and a way to survive their circumstance – whatever the costs.

Night Waking takes us into another facet of Caldwell’s exceptional repertoire – Caldwell highlights the fears and anxieties of a mother alone in her house with baby; her protagonists mind working over time, as she wakes in her house to a noise of a possible home invader, burglar, rapist or child abductor. Caldwell showcases what sleep deprivation can do to the most rational of minds, and we are put on edge from the outset and by the tension filled writing she displays with skill. I found myself holding my breath and furiously turning the pages as the domino’s began to fall – but the horror of this piece are the things that she leaves unsaid.

The title story Intimacies literally broke me when I read it. Physically and mentally – there is such power locked in this story all wrapped up in a bundle of grief. It’s a letter of sorts to her child that never was, things to know and life lessons they will never partake in – it’s almost confessional in tone and structure. Grief is a many faced beast, with each person it touches seeing and dealing with it in their own way and Caldwell’s depiction of it in Intimacies is both original and heartbreaking; and her prose in this story is some of the most emotive writing I’ve read in a long while. A story that stays with you long after reading and what better way to leave her mark on this most beguiling and raw collection.

‘As I grew you in my body, so too I grew you in my mind…’

These are just a few of the remarkable stories within this most unforgettable and charming collection. Intimacies is an intimate experience for the reader and one I’ll never forget. All of the stories in this collection focus on a female protagonist, but this doesn’t alienate the male reader, if anything it reveals the struggles, fears, worries, oppression / stereotyping that women have been facing for far too long and bringing it into the male consciousness. Caldwell should be championed for bringing these lost voices, these inner most thoughts and anxieties to the surface and airing them in such a bold, urgent and delicate way.

A stellar collection that cements Lucy Caldwell as one of the best writers of our time.

Intimacies is published by Faber & Faber and is available here.

Lucy Caldwell

Born in Belfast in 1981, Lucy Caldwell is the multi–award winning author of three novels, several stage plays and radio dramas and, most recently, two collections of short stories: Multitudes (Faber, 2016) and Intimacies (forthcoming, Faber, 2020). She is also the editor of Being Various: New Irish Short Stories (Faber, 2019). Awards include the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the George Devine Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Imison Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, the Irish Writers’ and Screenwriters’ Guild Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Award (Canada & Europe), the Edge Hill Short Story Prize Readers’ Choice Award, a Fiction Uncovered Award, a K. Blundell Trust Award and a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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