Author: Emma Donoghue
Originally Published: 2012
Format I Read: Hardback
Publisher: Little, Brown
Emma Donoghue’s book, Room, kind of took the world by storm. So, my curiosity was peaked by her newest work, a short story collection by the name of Astray. And my curiosity and attention remained peaked through the whole book. I essentially read the whole collection through as if it were a novel. Each story was so pitch perfect that I was, at first, sorry to leave each one, but after a couple of stories, I knew I was in capable hands. So, while I was sad to leave each story, I was also eager to see what the next one held in store.
It’s aptly named, as each of the stories features a character or characters that are morally, socially, or physically astray. The collection is divided into three sections: Departures, In Transit, and Arrivals and Aftermaths. And, delightfully, each story is based on some kernel of historical information. So, at the end of each story, there is a short explanation of the historical inspiration for the story. Most of the time, these were very obscure figures, referenced only in the briefest way in the history of the world. For example, one of the stories, “Onward,” is about a woman referenced briefly in a couple of Charles Dickens’s letters.
The historical aspect of the stories created a wonderful atmosphere of discovery. I enjoyed each story as its own story, but I also looked forward to seeing the historical context. (There is an afterword too, that explains more about the inspiration for each story, but I preferred the tidbits after the stories themselves.) My one criticism of it is that the writing was very even throughout, which is a kind of compliment, but I sometimes didn’t feel like she quite captured the time period she was writing about. A small quibble though, as the writing in general was excellent.
I think this would be an excellent book club selection. It’s readable. It’s historical. And it covers a wide range of issues and subjects. There is something here for everyone. I loved all of the stories, but my favorites were these:
“Man and Boy” – the story of an English elephant caretaker in the 1800s (told in second-person)
“The Long Way Home” – the story of Mollie, a kind of renegade cowgirl, who escorts a wandering husband home
“The Lost Seed” – the story of a very devout Puritan
“What Remains” – the story of two Canadian friends and sculptors in their old age
I really can’t say it enough. I loved this collection. It’s compulsively readable. These stories and characters are all accessible, relatable. Perhaps its because we’ve all been astray.
Astray, by Emma Donoghue [rating:5]
What others had to say:
Dawn of 5 Minutes for Books: “Days after reading this collection, I continue to have visions of these characters at random times during the day, imagining them as representatives for times in history that are often unimaginable to my contemporary world brain.”
Jen of Devourer of Books: “The stories vary greatly in length, but besides the general subject matter, the one thing that all of the stories have in common is the fact that they are all incredibly compelling. . . . Do yourself a favor here and pick this up in either print or audio.”
nomadreader: “While I typically prefer novels to short stories, I also adore fiction based on real people. The threads of history and strong thematic elements of travel, wandering and displacement that run through this collection made it cohesive. Donoghue’s writing shines as much as her research.”