Sweet Home By Wendy Erskine – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 27th June 2019

You all know I love me a short story collection, and Sweet Home with its quotes from the awesome Sarah Baume and Nicole Flattery is no exception.

These ten short stories set around a contemporary Belfast are sharp, incisive and chock full of emotion, but in an entirely understated way.

In Inakeen we meet a lonely widow who develops an obsession with her new neighbours, the fact they wear Niqab’s and their comings and goings.

Observation tells the story of a young girl who watches her friend steal her mother’s boyfriend, a mother unlike any other in the area, glamorous, fit and almost in competition with her own teenage daughter.

In The Soul Has No Skin we meet Barry, a man who is wrongfully accused of being involved with the abduction of a young girl in his late teens.

In Lady And Dog we meet Olga, an old-fashioned teacher with tragedy in her past who becomes obsessed with the young Gaelic football coach at her school.

A story of class distinction is brought to us in the title story of Sweet Home. Two couples from different social backgrounds are connected through one couples need for working income and the other couples loss of a child.

Last Supper is the understated tale of the manager of a Christian coffee shop covering up for his staff when they are caught having sex in the coffee shop toilets.

These stories give us insights into ordinary lives behind closed doors on ordinary streets. The characters are people who are either just trying to get by, or attempting to make something of their lives. These are people who could be living in your street.

What ties these characters together is that each of them has suffered a tragic or pivotal event in their past, be that loss or grief or violence. We then see how this has impacted on them in their current lives. I always enjoy this element of any story, be it in a novel or short story format. Seeing how an event however simple or life shaking can have repercussions, be they small ripples or echoes from the past or earth shattering consequences.

The characters in this collection are so well developed and engaging. I imagine it is no mean feat to write fully rounded characters that the reader becomes invested in when a story is only 20 or so pages long. In fact a couple of the stories I could imagine as full length novels. I experienced just enough of each of the characters to be satisfied with their story but also was left wanting maybe a little more…..which is a feeling I relish with short stories. I enjoy being left with a sense of ‘I wonder what happened to them after that’. There is a real sense of ‘reading between the lines’ and making assumptions about events and characters based on the feelings that you are drip fed, rather than being told explicitly.

The writing is quite anecdotal and conversational. Many of the stories feel like you are sitting down with a friend and chatting about other people’s lives. The dialogue is unpunctuated which is something I don’t always get on with, however in this case it works perfectly.

I am always a fan of making the ordinary extraordinary and in this collection Wendy Erskine has done just that. That sense of the mundane mingled in with the exceptional is one I really enjoy experiencing.  There is a hint of darkness in some of these stories, something else I enjoy, theres always something so propulsive about a hint of the sinister.

All in all this is a very accomplished short story collection.  I believe it is a debut, which only serves to make me very excited about Wendy Erskine’s work in the future.

If you’re a short story fan then this book is an absolute must for you.

Thank you to Alice May Dewing and the publisher for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish  Chat xx

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