Sad but beautiful short stories

Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien is a book of short stories. Although I’d heard of the writer I had never read anything by her before and maybe the short story collection was a good way in – I shall certainly look for other books that she has written in the future.

The author is Irish and the stories are about Irish people, either in Ireland or in London. The book is short and so are the stories but it is obvious that each word is carefully chosen. These are stories to linger over rather than to read quickly.

All the people in these stories are sad but I didn’t find the collection particularly depressing although I am not sure why unless it was that I was captivated by the beauty of the language and the descriptions. Most of the people about whom the author writes are failing to achieve something they are searching for or finding that what they have achieved is not what they were really looking for. We realise that no one is all saint or all sinner. We observe these people and feel distant from them but we are told how they feel. In one story, for example, the narrative is told via a series of diary-like letters and in another one character tells us the story she has learned from another. There is little direct speech.

I am not usually a fan of short stories but I very much enjoyed these. I liked the atmosphere that the author created and the way that the stories are told. I wouldn’t read them all at once but would suggest that you take time to savour each one and admire the way that they are crafted.

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