The End of the World is a Cul de Sac: A smartly delivered collection

Cover image for The End of the World is a Cul de Sac by Louise KennedyIt was the mention of The Stinging Fly in her biographical notes that made me want to read Louise Kennedy’s The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac. I’ve yet to read a set of stories from one of their contributors that hasn’t hit the spot for me. Someone there has a very sharp editorial eye. Kennedy’s collection comprises fifteen stories, none more than twenty-odd pages, all more than worthy of a mention but I’ll do my best to pick out my absolute favourites.

Belladona sees a young girl, bullied at school, becoming involved with the new couple across the road, admiring of their bohemian habits but eager to spill the beans when they become the subject of gossip. In Wolf Point a man looks after his bright young tiara-wearing daughter remembering how her bipolar mother transformed his solitary middle-aged life before she was felled by her illness. A woman fleeing her partner’s desperate need to reproduce settles into a holiday cottage by the sea, striking up a relationship with a taciturn birdwatcher which proves to be just what she needs in What the Birds Heard. Gibraltar tells the story of a family in a series of photographs which show a distorted version of the truth while Imbolic sees a woman pay a heavy price for the solution to their money problems she’d suggested to her husband when their farm hits the skids.

Kennedy’s stories are often vividly powerful, drawing you in to their characters’ worlds. Many are told from the perspective of women, often disenchanted with their partners. Their setting is frequently a countryside where money is short for the locals who service the blow-ins’ demands for a fashionable authenticity manufactured to pander to them in order to make ends meet. Things are often not quite what they seem, the truth revealed as small details are slipped into stories through which run a sly humour coupled with pathos and acerbic observations. As ever there are a multitude of quotes I could pull out but these should give you a flavour of the style and range of Kennedy’s writing:

It resembled a clinic you saw on television where rich women went to lose weight or go mad

Each season brought something on: primroses and wood anemones in spring, amethyst deceivers and penny buns in autumn. Even winter had a bounty: a cluster of berries the birds had missed, lime-white lichen through freezing fog

She had bought a bottle of Powers when she moved in, imagining her neighbours calling in for a drink, as if they were all characters in a John McGahern book

His looks came from his mother, who had died at sixty-three, sagging with disappointment

Whenever I read a collection as good as this I wonder why it took me so long to become a short story fan when the best are characterised by the economy of style I admire. This from Garland Sunday, for instance – I’m Ethan’s fiancée, the girl said, twisting at her ring finger. There was no ring on it – tells you all you need to know about Ethan and the girl lovingly laying out his CDs for sale. Sharp, smart and to the point, Kennedy’s collection is on the button.

Bloomsbury Publishing: London 9781526623270 304 pages Hardback

14 thoughts on “The End of the World is a Cul de Sac: A smartly delivered collection”

  1. I’m finding that short stories are proving to be a helpful way back into full reading. I’m currently working my way through the fabulous The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies and have added Kennedy’s collection to look at next. Thanks as ever, Susan, for highlighting a brilliant-sounding title.

    1. You’re welcome, Liz, and I’m glad to hear you’re finding your way back into reading. I was lucky to keep my reading mojo throughout the pandemic year but I know that others haven’t.

  2. The Stinging Fly is top-notch. Do you subscribe, or simply eye the writers who include a publication there in their bio’s?

  3. I had an English friend with whom I swapped literary magazines across the pond for years (she, too, was investigating markets for short stories and the like, so I sent Cdn issues) and I really enjoyed them early on. More recently, I’ve been able to read them through the city’s reference library but, obvs, not since early 2020. Are they sold in bookshops there? Here it’s cheaper to be a subscriber, but you can buy single issues on newsstands and in bookstores (chain and indie alike).

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