In Another Country

By David Constantine

A concern with short stories is that you could finish reading them and feel like you’ve not had enough. If the characters are worth investing your time in, how can that be satisfied in just a few pages?

In his short stories, David Constantine doesn’t try to cover entire lifetimes, but instead provides you with snapshots that reveal so much about the characters that you get such a feel of their essence. It can feel voyeuristic, in that you understand the people he creates more than anyone in their lives or even themselves.

The first story in the book, from which the collection takes its name and the film 45 Years is based on, is ‘In Another Country’. Mr Mercer receives a letter explaining that the body of his first lover, Katya, has been found perfectly preserved in ice in the Alps. He and his wife are now elderly and very much set in their ways. The ghosts of the past bring into question the decisions made over the years, and of youth lost.

Connections can be drawn between their story and global warming, which caused the covering snow to melt and reveal Katya after all these years. It is a disaster that cannot be averted, much like the impending doom of their marriage.

Constantine doesn’t use speech marks to distinguish dialogue from the rest of the text. As such, the line is blurred between what is actually said, what should be said and what is internal monologue. It can feel unusual at first to the reader, but once you realise this, the text flows easily.

Dialogue is limited between Mr and Mrs Mercer, and it’s what is unsaid that reveals their true feelings. As the reader, you are party to this, whilst the other characters are not.

This is true in the collection’s other stories as well, these masterful studies in character. They’re brief, but so enlightening. The lack of connections between people can feel raw, yet starkly real.

In the end, you feel glad that this is a collection of short stories, because it means so many studies in character to gorge on. I was left feeling as affected as they were and still wanting more.

CHRIS TAVNER

commapress.co.uk