Kate Doyle’s I Meant It Once comprises sixteen short stories, some very short indeed which was about all I felt up to when I read it, plagued with a sore throat and headache. As ever, I’ll pick out a few favourites to give you a flavour of what’s on offer in this collection which features women often looking back to their early twenties trying to find a place in the world for themselves.
The astrologer, ethereal yet severe in the blurry chat window, explains that Christine’s natal chart shows a complex gathering of planets in her Twelfth House of Self-Undoing.
It opens with the amusing That Is Shocking in which Margaret is still fixated on a college breakup, years after it happened, using listeners’ reactions to the story as a benchmark despite her own bad behaviour. Two Pisces Emote About the Passage of Time sees Christine’s life apparently unravelling despite her new partner when her best friend moves to Texas until one night she has an epiphany. Longer and very much more sober, Moments Earlier is about four college friends who’ve planned a reunion when one of them returns from travelling in Europe, plans interrupted by a devastating incident. In the brief, punchy, richly imaginative You Are with Me, a young woman makes a decision her partner is unable to accept. I Figure We Were Doomed is a short, funny story about a self-centred young woman and her generous partner whose title says it all.
There is no explaining some things, no resolution to certain stories.
These are not easy stories to sum up. Very little happens; it’s more about the inner lives of young women who are often overthinkers, something with which I’m all too well acquainted. These are women either living through or looking back on years of youthful emotional intensity in which they felt uncertain of who they were and what they should be doing, sometimes trying the patience of their kind, supportive friends and family with their self-sabotaging behaviour. There’s a pleasing vein of wry, self-knowing humour running through all but one of the stories I’ve picked out, although several of the others match the more sombre tone of Moments Earlier. Despite being far from its target readership, I enjoyed most of Doyle’s collection very much but felt it would have been all the better for dropping a few of the more oblique inward-looking pieces. That said, I’d be happy to read more of her writing.
Corsair: London 9781472158796 256 pages Paperback (read via NetGalley)