Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell: ‘Raw, compassionate and evocative’

These stories had an urgency and freshness that was impossible to ignore, as well as control and that crystalline quality of great short stories, says Faber editor Angus Cargill

Lucy Caldwell: “a writer of rare elegance and beauty, Caldwell doesn’t just get inside her characters’ minds. She perches in the precarious chambers of their hearts, telling their stories truthfully and tenderly.”

Lucy Caldwell: “a writer of rare elegance and beauty, Caldwell doesn’t just get inside her characters’ minds. She perches in the precarious chambers of their hearts, telling their stories truthfully and tenderly.”

 

Multitudes was not the book Lucy and I planned to publish next. After All the Beggars Riding, her acclaimed story of a bigamist surgeon and the mess he left behind for his families in London and Belfast, she was set to deliver a fourth novel. But around that time a series of short stories had started to come, which she was sending to me one by one, and a couple of which had appeared in print or on the radio, notably Escape Routes, which was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Prize.

These stories had an urgency and freshness to them that was impossible to ignore, as well as control and that crystalline quality of so many great short stories. They were also starting to show signs of being linked thematically, as well as by place (Belfast), and were all narrated by or focused on their female characters. Rather than a stop-gap or contract-filler-collected, here was a set of stories coming together organically, and pretty quickly, which showed a writer blossoming and maturing in new ways. Having mentioned early on the influence of her fellow East Belfast-er, Van Morrison, and with music flowing through many of the stories, she started to think of the collection in terms of an old vinyl album, with that particular kind of rhythm and feel that certain albums seem to possess.

When the story Multitudes arrived, the most unconventional of the stories – a diary piece, of sorts – it was clear it would both lend the collection its name, and end it so powerfully, on a harrowing, unflinching and yet beautiful note. The rest of the running order then seemed obvious – starting with the story featuring the youngest girls, leading up through the stories of adolescence towards that move to motherhood in the final story – following, in other words, the movement of time.

As to the subtitle which followed later, that was one of those nice moments of serendipity, allowing both a nod to one of the truly great story collections, Richard Yates’ Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, and fitting perfectly its classic, understated jacket design.

Raw, compassionate and evocative, each of the stories in Multitudes plays out the qualities recognised and articulated so well in the Independent’s review of All the Beggars Riding: “a writer of rare elegance and beauty, Caldwell doesn’t just get inside her characters’ minds. She perches in the precarious chambers of their hearts, telling their stories truthfully and tenderly.”

Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell (Faber, £12.99) is this month’s Irish Times Book Club selection, which we shall be exploring in a series of articles and essays. The series will culminate in an interview by Laura Slattery, which will released as a podcast on September 30th

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