Whether the traumatised child at the centre of Room or the humanised figures in the folktales of Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue’s characters seem thoroughly unique and alive. Her new collection, Astray, strives for much the same life, spanning continents and centuries, sometimes focusing on individuals on the periphery of historical events. Her protagonists range from a child in 1839 to the humble keeper of an elephant in the London Zoo.
Donoghue produced these stories with the aid of authentic accounts and documents, and she follows each tale with a short contextual note. It’s telling that ‘Snowblind’, the story of two prospectors in over their heads in the Yukon, relies the least on extant documents but stands out as one of the best in the book. But ‘Last Supper at Brown’s’, about a plan to murder a Texas slave owner, suffers when its supporting backstory is revealed; the events described might lead readers to believe an even more fascinating work was possible. Tobias Carroll