Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

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Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A classy and literate selection of stories from a confident debutante – raising enough confidence in the reader to bookmark her for many successes to come.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: January 2016
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 9781473613706

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Seeing as this book is clearly a talented author hitting the ground running, I will dispense with any major preamble. We start with a tale of a daughter affected by the emotions of her parents as they separate – and the influence of a certain school-teacher – from the mother's point of view. An ancient input shows how alien, and the modern day domesticity how regular, the isolation of a woman can feel, as events are peppered by minor acts of destruction. But men can be alienated too – especially one, a reluctant guest at a party for children hosted by someone he once had an affair with – he feels the new form of this influence in the light of another one he has had to try and abandon. 'All About Alice' – that's what the title character wants to say but has nobody to speak it to, but is it her – mid-40s and single, living with her father – that is most removed from her dreams or her old friend and now child factory, Marian? And we complete a lap of the calendar with the wintry tale of a man unable to tell his work superiors of the problems he faces at home – a new home, recently built like so many one sees while driving round Ireland.

Yes, this is definitely a Celtic Tiger that has lost its claws, but the consequences are not what you might expect. A young lad is kind-of apprenticed to a relative who drives a lorry moving animals (and animal parts), in an economy that might as well have ditched money and reverted to barter – but he's not alone in being of his generation in amongst that. With such a psychological clarity as regards her characters, this debut author doesn't present us with the overly dramatic stories of people losing their jobs, being ill, being drunkards, having past histories they ought to outgrow – instead we get quieter, more literary and certainly no less effecting tales. These are characters that are flawed, and not at all flawed in how we meet and read of them, but they're not the usual council estate victims, or suchlike – they're on the whole intelligent, fully-bodied and likeable people to meet. If it weren't for what the situation was one could almost say you'd aspire to be them – there but the grace of god, perhaps.

Still, it's an Ireland on the turn. A newly graduated architect can see potential in all the ruins he drives past en route to touch base with his brother. Pregnancy is common; parents have passed. People find succour in relatives (or perhaps the relatives' lodgers). A few times the stories seem, not overly experienced, but perhaps overly exposed to the creative writing course factory. Set some characters in a situation, add artful flashbacks or unusual incidental scenes (such as a dog playing a unique seaside game of fetch with a crab, not a twig), then leave the characters in a state of poignancy. But there's so much more richness to these pages that that really implies, and an ease to the fluid writing that shows no formulaic pattern was ever involved. The richness does create a quite uniform mood, which means the book is better rationed, although conversely, when we get an escape to sunny Italy, the story feels slightly out of place.

And anyway, the quality suggests a rationing – savouring what is a finely-formed debut book, with some fine narration, often involving a very reasoned and reasonable look at quite rarefied circumstances. Fans of short story books will definitely relish this one.

I must thank the publishers of my review copy.

The American Lover by Rose Tremain is still holding the crown of best collection seen here recently.

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Buy Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin at Amazon.com.


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