This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Kay Brooks
Throughout history, people have migrated between and within countries for a variety of different reasons. Be it for love, money or to gain experiences, the journeys undertaken are fraught with contradicting emotions. What is being left behind? What is to be gained? Astray explores fourteen fact-inspired tales of travellers, each revealing a section of history that mankind should not forget.
I was generally surprised by this book, as it was not what I expected. The stories are not in chronological order but seem to flow from one to the next seamlessly linked by emotions and key issues. The earliest story is set in 1639 and the most recent, in 1967. The remaining twelve stories flit around in between these years. Despite being a hefty expanse of history to cover, they all seem to sit perfectly and are true to their allotted time period. Each short story has a historical explanation afterwards, explaining where Donoghue got her ideas from. The inspiration could be as small a seed as a single sentence in a journal that then develops into a well-rounded story, depicting a fully-believable account of events.
Each story leaves an echo after reading, meaning that it was best to leave a gap between reading each story rather than read it straight through as you might with a novel. This allowed the short but full stories the time to settle and be reflected on. One issue that may have prevented me choosing to read this book was the worry that some collections of short stories can leave the reader far less satisfied than a well-written novel would. This was not a major problem once I had started reading as I became engrossed effortlessly. For some of the stories, I would have liked more detail, but that may have ruined the ‘snippets of time’ effect that Astray offers. Regardless of this view, Donoghue gives enough for each haunting tale to be memorable and effective.
Trying to choose a favourite to use as an example of what to expect is difficult as each tale has its own strong suit. I found ‘The Widow’s Cruse’ delightfully amusing as the twist was revealed at the end. Whereas ‘What Remains’, a tale of a true life-long friendship and ‘Counting the Days’, based on thirteen letters written between a separated husband and wife reduced me to tears.
This is not like anything I have ever read before. The characters have been created with such tenderness and compassion that they stay with you long after reading. Each character has been given an individual voice, including an appropriate dialect. The result is unrelentingly vivid characters seem to leap off the page, carrying out their fated tale in front of the reader’s eyes.
A series of stories that span centuries to touch the reader’s heart.