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Sea Fret

A Review by Cynthia Rogerson

A Review by Cynthia Rogerson

Dilys Rose
Scotland Street Press (2022)

Another short story collection by Dilys Rose is always something to celebrate, and this one is no exception.  Twenty-eight stories packed into a smallish book, and no connection between them aside from featuring random individuals caught mid-stream in their day. Some stories are a few paragraphs long, a few are a dozen pages long, most are three or four pages. All are utterly complete.

Rose has been compared to Katherine Mansfield, a fair description. I could also add James Joyce with his collection The Dubliners, where the characters frequently have an epiphany – an moment of awareness that change is possible – but they mostly do nothing. With short fiction, Joyce is more intent on reflecting bleak reality than being artful, and I feel Rose is similar. And of course, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway also comes to mind, for Rose dips into and out of the consciousness of characters with great agility and speed.

Reading the collection is a rather intense and exhilarating experience. Perhaps like attending a party where you know no one, yet have sudden access to the innermost thoughts and feelings of everyone.  It can feel voyeuristic. It’s also slightly disturbing – but in a good way, for let’s face it: access to the secret inner lives of others is irresistibly delicious.

Beyond literary comparisons, what this collection mostly conjures up is a visual artist making very astute sketches.  Minimal lines.  Hasty, yet perceptive. The vulnerable adult grandson left behind in the caravan by his mafia-like granny, while the bullies loiter outside. The arrogant young man from the wrong side of town who dreams of winning a talent show, and doesn’t.  The young woman who has lost her luggage en route to a foreign city, where she is expected to be eloquent and persuasive to important people.  There is rarely anything dramatic in the stories, few pivotal moments – and yet, with Rose’s microscopic attention to detail, it starts to seem possible that every minute of any life is fraught with potential or realised drama.  Hopelessness or hopefulness, sometimes both simultaneously, propels each of her characters.

As an author, Rose cuts to the chase. She’s like a taxi driver, a bar tender, a hitchhiker - privy to the unguarded and rambling confidences of strangers, and clever enough to fold their stories into an eloquent shape.  The art is in the framing, of course, and clever omission may be Rose’s trademark talent.  Mostly the stories end before anything is resolved, perhaps because the point is revelation of character, not the solving of dilemmas. Like us or not, here we are! the characters seem to be saying.

There are some funny moments – and many bizarre moments – but mostly what this collection does is break your heart.

Northwords Now acknowledges the vital support of Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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