Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 7th November 2019

When I first started getting into short story collections at the end of last year, Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero was one of the first collections I remember picking up and really enjoying, and one particular story in the collection, Mrs Fox is one that always sticks in my mind.

When I saw that she had a new collection coming out I knew I had to try and get my hands on it, and get my hands on it I did (with huge thanks to Lauren Nicoll and Faber!).

Sudden Traveler – Sarah Hall:

The seven stories of Sudden Traveler immerse us anew in one of the most distinctive literary imaginations. In Turkish forests or rain-drenched Cumbrian villages, characters walk, drive, dream and fly, trying to reconcile themselves with their journey through life and death. A woman fitted with life-changing technology returns to the site of her strongest memories; a man repatriated in the near east hears the name of an old love called and must unpack history’s suitcase; and from the new world-waves of female anger and resistance, a mythical creature evolves.

Radical, charged with a transformative creative power, each of these stories opens channels in the human mind and spirit, as Sarah Hall once more invites the reader to stand at the very edge of our possible selves.

I had very high expectations on picking up this collection having loved Madame Zero so much and whilst I did enjoy the majority of the stories in this brief collection, I think Madame Zero is the stronger of the two.

It has been a couple of days since I finished the collection as I write this review and there are a few of the stories that jump to the forefront of my mind still, however there are also a couple which have paled somewhat for me.

The first story M really lured me in and got my hopes up for the rest of the collection. Any story where a woman morphs into something ‘other’ has become a recent fascination for me and in this visceral tale of revenge over pain a woman is twisted up in agony night after night as darkness falls.  When she begins to transform into another being she takes on the distress of many women and avenges the wrong that has been done to them.

Orton tells the story of a woman who has been fitted with new technology in which she can choose to essentially end her own life.  She travels back to the site of some of her most powerful memories of her past linked to one person in particular.  The idea that technology like this may one day be a reality gives this story a extra layer of depth and unease.

The Grotesques is another story that stands out in my head as a highly uneasy read.  The narrator tells of a uncomfortable dinner party thrown by her overbearing mother.  A mother who doesn’t allow her to eat.  Prior to the party the narrator has seen the abuse of a local vagrant and this plays on her mind, making her feel anxious and ill at ease.  She performs her social duties under the reproachful eye of her mother nonetheless.

There is no doubt that Sarah Hall is an excellent writer.  I think she nails the short story format perfectly.  I don’t think her writing would be for everybody as her fiction can be a little experimental shall we say.  There is more than a hint of the weird and fantastical and whilst in the main I enjoyed the collection, there were times where I had to sit and think ‘what have I just read?’….

This is a very brief collection but by no means an easy read.  I expected to whip through it but found I had to pause to reflect between each story and try and decipher what I had read and draw my own conclusions from it.

I am very eager to pick up some of Sarah Hall’s novels and see how she constructs longer works of fiction.  Her writing is beautiful and descriptive and really draws you in, even if sometimes you are not really sure what it is exactly that you are being drawn into!

Give Sarah Hall a go and see what you think.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.


Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx


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