Book review: SaltWater

THE sea is the linking motif of this exciting collection of stories, which will please those who like a salty tang to their reading.

The author has a real passion for the sea in all its moods, from calm starry night to raging storm, and understands those who cannot live without it.

Lane Ashfeldt’s grandparents are from west Cork, she grew up in Dublin, and now lives in Wales. This is her first collection, but she is no beginner: she has already won several prizes and been published in the London Magazine and various anthologies. They are highly imaginative, fast-moving stories, with satisfying endings. Lane Ashfeldt is definitely a name to watch.

The title story, Salt Water, is one of several told from multiple viewpoints. Set in west Cork during the Second World War, it concerns Nola and her husband Jim, the skipper of a coaster. While she stays at home, he sails to Cornwall for a load of china clay, assuming that the Germans will respect the neutrality of his Irish flag.

The safe domestic world in which Nola takes the children to Sherkin Island by train and ferry contrasts with the world of the seafarers at the mercy of the whims of the German pilots.

Dancing on Canvey and Catching the Tap-Tap to Cayes de Jacmel, are based on true events: the flooding of Canvey Island, Essex, in 1953, and an earthquake on Haiti. 

Both are told in the voice of a young survivor, a schoolgirl on Canvey, whose parents are on a rare night out dancing when disaster strikes, and a young boy trapped in an air pocket after an earthquake, who shares his will to survive with an elderly woman trapped nearby.

In both cases the voice is totally convincing, and the drama well sustained. Airside is another multi-voiced story with a topical background, featuring refugees from Diego Garcia, working as airplane cleaners at Gatwick.

The majority of the stories are set in the contemporary world, among young men and women who are struggling to find their place in the scheme of things.

Sound Waves concerns two groups of musicians attending a weekend festival on the Isle of Wight.

Shay and his friends are young and aspiring; the others, a band led by two older women, are regrouping after a long absence from live performance.

The two story lines intertwine, with a tragic ending for one character, and a new start for another.

God Mode is a witty riff on a character who feels she has been ‘…drag-and-dropped into a looped game sequence’, as she tries to escape from the influence of her supercilious boyfriend, Max.

Max has dumped her, leaving her to holiday alone, but he seems to haunt her like a hologram whenever she stops reading.

Outer Banks Riptide is the longest, most ambitious story, reaching new heights of dramatic intensity. It is partly told from the viewpoint of Jude, an attractive 19-year-old living on an island resort off North Carolina, doing part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Her Irish father left when she was four, leaving her mother struggling to get by as a single parent. Her background contrasts with the wealthy summer visitors, who disappear for the winter.

Descriptions of migrating birds, including a juvenile blue heron, parallel the human migrations. Her rich boyfriend Gabriel leaves, and is replaced by Angelo; eventually we learn that Angelo is a dog that she walks for a Manhattan-based summer visitor.

The tension builds as the end-of-season storm intensifies to hurricane strength, described in tense, economic prose, reaching a catastrophic finale.

These are memorable stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.

SaltWater

Lane Ashfeldt

Liberties Press, €12.99; ebook, €5.17

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