Homesickness by Colin Barrett review – superb stories of changing Ireland

One of the leading proponents of the short story explores how to be a man in a country on the turn

The short story is seen as either a natural form, close to conversation, or an art like poetry, requiring great skill and restraint. But some poems are huge and some short stories are restless, just about contained. Some stories push at their own edges, trying to escape themselves.

In The Ways, the second story in Colin Barrett’s superb second collection, every sentence is as full and alive as a sentence can be, while managing to stay ordinary. A landline “mewls”, waking a girl from the “cosy rut” of her bed. As she comes downstairs, “she swatted each light switch as she passed, in order to feel less alone”. Every chosen word catches and enlarges the character of Pell, one of three siblings who try to nurture each other after the death of their parents. Pell is similar to the characters in Barrett’s first collection Young Skins, which concerned itself with the disenfranchised, the peripheral, the damaged and the lost, and won the Guardian first book award in 2014.

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