When the tourists leave town, when the sun fades for the winter, that’s when author Alannah Hopkin gets to work. Her short stories, collected here for the first time, feature the barflies, the skippers, the outsiders who settle in when the rest of the world has turned away. And lucky for us, they’ve got some great stories to tell.
Many of the ones collected here, in “The Dogs of Inishere,” feature women on the brink of a life-altering decision: a bookish young girl seeks out solitude at any cost; a mother of six, fed up with her cheating husband, goes out into the Christmas night with a shotgun; a budding arts journalist lands an interview with a reclusive old movie star, with unintended consequences.
Set both in Ireland and England, these tight narratives play upon the region’s deep history, as clearly illustrated in the story “Strangers.” A photographer travels to a small island in Roaring Water Bay, off the far southwest coast of Ireland. Out here where the grass is “thick and springy” underfoot and the population just 10, the narrator experiences a “sensation I call slippage, when some part of your being slips into another time, joins the ghosts of another age, then slips back into this world, mildly disoriented and perhaps a little wiser.”
The past is always with us, Hopkin seems to say. The words of Keats, Lowry and others haunt and comfort the narrators; old lovers can be channeled; nature is banal and gobsmacking.
And while Hopkin’s stories are short enough — and snappy enough — to be taken one after the other, they should instead be savored like a glass of port on a cold evening: read slowly, with appreciation.