Anne Donovan: Hieroglyphics

What goes around comes around. I lent Buddha Da to a friend last year; she was enthralled and has just lent me this collection of short stories.

Like all good short stories these are in at the middle, out in the middle, and constructed with an immense craft which belies their apparent simplicity, immediate transparency and intense accessibility. Then the scalpel sharp endings. I think “Donovan” and smile with a good feeling at the voice, yet these stories by and large deal with various forms of pain as well as celebration.

The collection involves relationships between mothers and children, the spaces between. Also the relations between men and women: this is very much a female vision, men occupying the outskirts, few sympathetic men but there is one in particular. Indeed, it’s by suggestion that worlds are brought into being because how we are, who we are, is crucially and to a large extent a function of who others think we are. We are left to connect the understated ‘hints’ of the men who have left home, the brusque social workers, the lives of attrition faced by single mums trying to do their best.

Donovan usually weaves perfectly two or three related strands together, often by employing familiar objects or scenarios to stand for wider themes. The stories exhibit a range of method. Dindy. in particular, is a successful ‘experimental’ form that brings together the voices of three generations and deals with sexuality, woman-man, nurturing and desires constrained. The spectrum of stories moves from the world of the child at the beginning, through the adult to old age. The latter is done delightfully, gently and affectionately but one in particular has a more than melancholy tinge it veers towards the dark. Another story, Brambling is downright chilling.

A superb collection.