I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Emma Donoghue so it shouldn’t be surprising that I also loved this short story collection. But I really was blown away. The Wonder showed me that Donoghue excels in historical fiction but I was still so impressed by what she manages to attain in this collection of historical stories.
Donoghue takes a series of real-life snippets and in just a few pages, she brings these historical vignettes to life. I would argue that this is harder to do than in short stories set in the present day because you have to place the reader in a time and location that they may be very unfamiliar with. And yet Donoghue does it over and over again so that each story felt as real as it actually is.
It’s hard to pick a favourite from this collection because even some weeks later, there are many that are still turning over in my mind. The Widow’s Cruse where a day-dreaming lawyer makes the mistake of underestimating a woman who employs him. The Body Swap, which felt like an entire movie of action and intrigue and Americana. Vanitas left me wanting to know everything about the main characters life – a rich young girl growing up in Louisiana in 1839.
I particularly loved that each story ended with a brief explanation of the real events that inspired Donoghue. Sometimes when I read historical fiction, I’m curious to know exactly how much of it is true and how much the author embellished. I wonder if Donoghue is the same because I felt like she provided exactly the information I found myself wanting to google as I read.
Travel is a theme throughout the collection, often from the “Old World” to the “New”. The stories are loosely arranged, under headings of “Departures”, “In Transits”, and “Arrivals and Aftermaths”. It was interesting to go back and re-consider these stories under these headings and decide if I agreed with their placements. I think this is a collection I will return to more than once.