In these remarkable stories, John Burnside takes us into the lives of men and women trapped in marriage, ensnared by drink, diminished by disappointment; all kinds of women, all kinds of men – lonely, unfaithful, dying – driving empty roads at night. These are people for whom the idea of ‘home’ has become increasingly intangible, hard to believe – and happiness, or grace, or freedom, all now seem to belong in some kind of dream, or a fable they might have read in a children’s picture book. As he says in one story, ‘All a man has is his work and his sense of himself, all the secret life he holds inside that nobody else can know.’ But in each of these normal, damaged lives, we are shown something extraordinary: a dogged belief in some kind of hope or beauty that flies in the face of all reason and is, as a result, both transfiguring and heart-rending.
John Burnside is unique in contemporary British letters: he is one of our best living poets, but he is also a thrillingly talented writer of fiction. These exquisitely written pieces, each weighted so perfectly, opens up the whole wound of a life in one moment – and each of these twelve short stories carries the freight and density of a great novel.