Today I want to recommend two short story collections – Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs on Other Planets, and Helen Simpson’s Cockfosters. Both were selected at random from my library’s catalogue, as I am always keen to seek out new short story authors. McLaughlin’s is a debut collection, and Simpson is already a prolific author, but this is the first of her books which I have read.
Dinosaurs on Other Planets centres around Ireland, and tells of a host of different characters; commuters, obsessed children, and worried parents. Family is a central theme, in fact; even those who are lonely talk still have those around their own orbit whom they love – or abhor – in differing ways. The blurb of the book says it best when it describes the way in which, in McLaughlin’s stories, ‘the world is both beautiful and alien. Men and women negotiate their surroundings as a tourist might navigate a distant country: watchfully, with a mixture of wonder and apprehension. Here are characters living lives in translation, ever at the mercy of distortions and misunderstandings, striving to make sense both of the spaces they inhabit and of the people they share them with.’
Cockfosters, too, takes the central theme of relationships, and Simpson, like McLaughlin, presents shrewd character portraits, and scenes of life which linger in the memory long afterwards. It is an amusing, intelligent collection on the whole, and presents the reader with a whistle-stop tour of the world, from life in busy London and Berlin, to pasts in Russia and futures in Dubai. There are female and male protagonists here, and an array of narrative perspectives, which makes the whole a joy to read.
Both of these collections were excellent reads (as you can probably tell from my praise above), and I will certainly be reading the rest of Simpson’s work, and eagerly awaiting McLaughlin’s second publication.