Eastmouth and Other Stories, by Alison Moore, is one of a new series of books being released by Salt Publishing – Salt Modern Stories. This particular collection of short stories is written by one of my go to authors although, until now, I had yet to read her in shorter form. Each entry in the collection reflects Moore’s trademark style – understated and quietly disturbing. Lurking riptides beneath the smoothly flowing surface will pull readers inside her carefully crafted worlds. Perfect for spooky season, these are tales of ghosts – real and imagined? – alongside manifestations of fears that can be hard to supress when inhabiting dark and lonely places. There are malevolent spirits aplenty, particularly in houses and other supposedly safe spaces. These have been patiently awaiting their chance for mischief or revenge.
Twenty-one stories are included, opening with the titular Eastmouth. Like several others in the collection it is set in a tired, English seaside town. It tells of Sonia, a young woman visiting her boyfriend’s parents. Their welcome is unfettered, unlike their willingness to grant Sonia personal agency. Her boyfriend reveals concern when she will not comply as expected.
Many of the stories exude this need to gain control of another’s personal decision making. Partners attempt to undermine confidence. Help is offered that proves anything but beneficial. Other recurring themes include the presence of water in less than benign circumstances. Unsettling scenes include clever use of a variety of ordinary yet increasingly claustrophobic settings.
Characters are mostly British and exhibit the tics that, being so recognisable, can be amusing. When this develops into something more sinister it is done without fuss, as fits the psyche. Small town life and attitudes are captured skilfully, the apparent stoicism spilling over into an eventual need to deal with an irritant who won’t listen or learn. Readers will almost here them quietly state, ‘but you made me do it’.
A Month of Sundays is a curiously uplifting tale of an elderly gentleman attending a funeral. His last friend has died, going the way of the rest of their circle. The gentleman wondered how many would attend the service so is surprised to find the crematorium chapel more or less full. In chatting to others afterwards he finds himself accepted for unanticipated reasons.
The unexpected turn taken in Common Ground makes it both poignant and exasperatingly relatable. A new neighbour tries to ingratiate himself on the woman next door. When she remains unwilling to go on a date, to do as he wishes and thinks she should, he starts to complain about a tree in her garden. It becomes a metaphor for the way she has acted in the past although cannot admit to regretting.
“She can imagine how he is feeling now: righteous and miserable.”
The collection finishes with Ooderwald, a tale of the myriad ways one can say, ‘I lost’. The story being told is wound around the protagonist’s study of the English language, the many complex tenses few can define clearly yet with subtle differences in meaning. The losses suffered may differ in perceived scope but all cause degrees of suffering.
An eminently satisfying read from a master storyteller with a deliciously chilling imagination. Perfect for curling up with as the nights draw in – if you dare.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.