A cast of eccentrics and outsiders populates a collection set largely in coastal Ireland.
In “You Can’t Call It That,” the final story in Hopkin’s (The Living Legend of St. Patrick, 1989, etc.) slim volume, the unnamed narrator says, “I believe the truth is made clearer if one tells lies. Even though you shouldn’t call fiction that. You can’t call it that. I believe in stories. I love stories.” Featuring a freelance journalist who shares all the same credentials as the author, this story—like most in the collection—walks the line between short fiction and essay. Or as Hopkin might put it, the line between truth and lies. In “Strangers,” a photographer on a remote island takes pictures of a young girl who seems more than just a little odd. In “An Explanation of the Tides,” a group of locals in a fishing village watches town drama unfold from the confines of the only pub. The title story features two travelers who meet in the Aran Islands and strike up an unlikely friendship. These are mostly quiet stories about mostly quiet places, offering us slice-of-life glimpses into sharply wrought settings. But Hopkin knows enough not to stay in the same pitch for each story, and some of her strongest writing here comes when she departs from the more journalistic offerings. In “New Girl,” a young girl at boarding school who only wants to be left alone to read earns the admiration of her peers in a surprising way. “Twentyquidsworth” is an homage to British and Irish ghost stories in the tradition of M.R. James. But whichever mode Hopkin chooses, her eye remains keen and her affection for her settings and characters evident.
A warmly rendered collection.