Sudden traveller | Sarah Hall

What a collection. Just what I want from short stories: intense, unsettling and challenging. Sarah Hall’s prose is vivid and dense, with an oblique narrative style that forces the reader to concentrate hard in order to puzzle out the details (which I like – and it comes as no surprise to read that started as a poet). The voice and settings switch markedly between stories so the seven short pieces seem unconnected to begin with. Thematically there is revenge, mothers and daughters, death, and women undergoing strange transmutations; location-wise there is Turkey, Cumbria and Oxford; and yet, and yet, it is all beautifully brought together at the end in two very tender stories that are a perfect counterbalance and rounding-off to the foregoing dark tales, and make it more than the sum of its parts. And the cryptic title starts to make sense, figures launching off in various ways, on various journeys – taking flight, transformation, into the past, into dreams, into death.   

It’s said that short stories always start in the middle; the reader enters mid-scene and has to work out what’s happening for themselves, and quick. And in this unnerving collection especially. You crash-land in a strange location in darkness with no bearings or map, and need to decipher the images and allusions the author drops in to find a path. Hard work and not for everyone but I loved it, and now have to get hold of all Sarah Hall’s other work to feast on her powerful work.