If you've got kids and have ever needed to keep them entertained in a doctor's waiting room or in a traffic jam, I'm sure you've all played the game where you choose someone random and try to imagine their life story or what they're thinking or why they're there. This is what Emma Donoghue's Astray reminded me of.
It's nothing like the hauntingly simple Room that I read and loved (and reviewed) last year, but I still really enjoyed it. Astray is a series of fourteen unconnected short stories, with each one following someone who is emigrating to, from or within the United States and Canada. The really interesting and clever thing about them all is that each one is inspired by a true life story spotted, for example, in a newspaper in a museum or on a historically factual website.
The fact that they are the could-be-true stories behind historical facts makes them extremely poignant and credible. From the lucked-out gold-hunters in the Klondike having their own Brokeback Mountain moment to the early Pilgrim settlers in Massachussetts battling their own demons or the unlikely but nevertheless true story of the New York politician (and father) who, on his death, was revealed as a woman, you never know where you will be heading next. The mind boggles at some of the extraordinary narratives, especially when you turn the final page to read the factual basis for Emma Donoghue's imaginative flights of fancy.
The stories move across the whole of the great North American continent and cover four centuries from its earliest days at Plymouth Rock to the 1960's. The colourful characters are charming and extraordinary, showing - as is often the case - that fact really is stranger than fiction. Astray is a canny mixture of the two.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £14.99
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Picador (25 Oct 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1447209494
- ISBN-13: 978-1447209492
- Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.2 x 3.4 cm
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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