Astray, by Emma Donoghue

by Jessica Anderson on December 14, 2012

in Fiction, Review Copy, Reviews

Astray

Title: Astray
Author: Emma Donoghue
Pages: 271
Originally Published: 2012
Format I Read: Hardback
Publisher: Little, Brown
Rating: [rating:5]

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I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

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.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah at SmallWorld Reads December 14, 2012 at 6:05 am

This sounds great! I loved Room–well, as much as you can love such a novel–so I am looking forward to this.

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Jessica December 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I totally know what you mean about ROOM. I really enjoyed it too, but I enjoyed this one even more!

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Jenny December 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I don’t know why I have such a hard time with short stories but I do. The only book of short storied I read and enjoyed was by Stephen King…I know, I know, you don’t like him. ;)

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Jessica December 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I generally have a hard time with short story collections too. I think that’s why I’m so ecstatic when I find one that I love. I actually like some of Stephen King’s short stories a lot. I like him when he keeps his stories tight, and the short story form forces him to be better at that. :)

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L December 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm

wonderful review. I saw this the other day and wondered. Now I will wonder no more and be sure I read it.

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Jessica December 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Thank you! I can’t wait to hear what you think of it.

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nomadreader December 17, 2012 at 8:32 am

Thanks for mentioning my review! I really liked this one, but a few of the stories fell flat for me (including “Man and Boy”–I spent most of it thinking ‘what is this?’ Although perhaps if it weren’t the first one, I would have focused more on it.) Regardless, there are some superb stories there, and I just adore the way Donoghue fuses fact and fiction.

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Jessica December 17, 2012 at 10:21 am

I do think that it was a bit of an odd decision to lead with “Man and Boy.” While I liked the story, the second-person narration was jarring at first. And I too, love the way she “fuses fact and fiction.”

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