Multitudes, by Lucy Caldwell, is a collection of eleven short stories set in Belfast. As a native of the city and a fan of the short story form I approached this book with high expectations. I was not disappointed.
Several of the stories are told from the point of view of a child and the author has captured both the voice and the conflict of feelings at each age perfectly. It is easy to forget how torrid growing up can be: the desperate loneliness, being unable to articulate feelings, the fear of rejection by peers, of disappointing parents. These stories encompass the pain and pleasure of childhood social success and the damage this can cause.
My favourite story in the collection was ‘Through the Wardrobe’, a moving account of a young child uncomfortable in their own skin:
“You are sad. You’re only six years old but you feel sad a lot of the time, a tightness in your chest that you don’t have words for. Your mum says you’re a sensitive child […] she’ll stay till you fall asleep, you’re safe and nothing can hurt you. But it’s not outside you’re scared of. It’s something inside, and you can’t explain it”
Relationships are explored throughout: the pain of parenthood, the pain of being thirteen and friendless is a world that demands all fit in, the conflict when desire clashes with parental expectations.
In ‘Poison’ a pupil is attracted to her teacher with all the intensity that being fifteen entails. In ‘Here We Are’ two pupils find a love that will not be tolerated in a church lead community.
The writing is breathtaking, taut and rich in imagery. Each character demands empathy, even those imprisoned by their upbringing and beliefs.
I urge you to seek out this book. It is a fabulous work, fulfilling and rewarding to read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Faber and Faber.