No One Has Any Intention of Building a Wall, by Ruth Brandt, is a collection of eighteen short stories that explore, in eminently readable and engaging prose, a myriad of challenging lived experiences. Whilst there is an undercurrent of melancholy, this is infused with the beauty to be found when one pays attention. Love, with its many shades, is valued yet cut through with the cruelties inflicted by individuals who, inevitably, look out for themselves. There is also humour alongside an appreciation of transitory moments that prove pivotal. It becomes clear that the now can only be experienced through a lens coloured by what has gone before.
The collection opens with Happy Ever After, in which a mother waits desperately for news of her grown son, who is missing. The structure is clever and effective in offering the reader events from a variety of perspectives. The ending elicits sympathy despite its shocking nature.
Several stories explore child and parent relationships – the love and the disconnects alongside the damage inflicted by parents’ chosen actions, however well intentioned.
Strands features a young boy as he is moved between foster homes, a process that colours his development into adulthood, his ability to trust others and himself. He is regarded as trouble and continues to believe this.
There are a number of stories that follow the difficulties encountered due to sexual attraction. Petrification, set in Iceland, follows a hoped for holiday romance. Lifetime looks at the worries caused by age difference, but in a wonderfully off-centred way.
I enjoyed Superstitions in particular with its supposedly practical and fact valuing protagonist. She is taking part in an experiment involving a ladder and a cat but with questionable measures and aims. The humour provided in the ending was neatly executed.
Many of the stories have a pleasing ‘life is for living’ element, one that feels particularly valuable given our current situation. In Heading West an elderly man sets out to visit the seaside. His pursuit may seem foolish yet comes across as hopeful. His attempts to gender a young driver who helps him adds nuance to a poignant yet uplifting tale.
Snow Blindness is set during a ski holiday. A woman is spending her time focused on living longer by not taking risks.
“obsessing over whether the next check-up will be clear, retreating from the world to live in total safety all those extra minutes, months or years gifted her by expert doctors.”
Meanwhile, her partner determines to enjoy the moment, however foolhardy this may appear to a woman who believes he should deny himself pleasures she does not approve.
“Today he is going to squander his life, spend every last moment of it. Christ, today he feels alive.”
Stories include: spies and refugees, the bullied and depressed, young carers and children caught up in parental conflict.
Stop all the clocks imagines a seventeen year old Turing, dealing with school in the aftermath of his best friend’s death. Knowing how this affected him in real life adds to its power – how authority at the time tried to quash and ignore what was a desperate cry for understanding.
The writing is skilfully rendered, offering stories that are affecting and humane. There is much to consider in how we choose to live, the effect choices and personally proclaimed edicts have on others in the longer term, the walls being built between loved ones when they will not act in an approved way.
This is an engaging, timely and worthwhile read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.