This week sees the publication of Naomi Booth’s first collection of short stories, Animals at Night. As a fan of Booth’s writing, having loved the novels Sealed and Exit Management in recent years, I was very excited to receive an advance copy of this collection, with its promise of strange tales involving humans and other animals being an inviting prospect to me.
In Strangers, the first of the 14 stories featured in this collection, we immediately get a sense of the tone of this book and the nature of the themes that are explored, of life and death and the strange things that can happen in-between. Amongst the recurring themes throughout this collection is motherhood, and the bonds between mothers and their children. In the case of the central character in this opening tale, which was one of my favourites, we see a daughter carrying out her mother’s final wishes, in which we get a sense of the passing of time, and of life and death, and the impact on those left behind, a time for reflection. Other stories deal with new parenthood, and both the love and fear that a mother has for her child, and the challenges faced with trying to protect them from the world around them. This is something prominent in Cluster in which a woman feeding her baby in the night bears witness to the goings on in the city around her. It is also present in another of my favourite stories, Animals At Night, a story in which we see a young woman fearful of the dangers that may face her child, whilst unable to shake away the image of a dying hare by the roadside found on a trip with friends. I enjoyed this contrast between life and death, and night and day, as the stories of these human protagonists become intertwined with the other animals with which we share our world.
I quickly found myself drawn into this collection and thought it was brilliantly written, exploring some interesting themes whilst also creating a sense of unease for the reader as the darker elements of some of these stories emerge. This is particularly evident in Sour Hall, a story in which a farmer hears her herd of cows bellowing with fear, and there is a tense feeling building throughout, which leaves the reader to wonder what it is that could be spooking these animals, and indeed, what memories haunt its human protagonist. The way in which certain scenarios are described is expertly done, with vivid, visceral imagery adding to the dark and mysterious tone of the stories, whilst capturing the realities of life and death in all its beauty and trauma.
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and loved the way in which Naomi Booth creates this eerie, intriguing atmosphere to her stories whilst exploring matters of life and death, and of love and loss and the animals we share it with. It is to be published on 16th June 2022 by Dead Ink Books, with thanks to Jordan Taylor-Jones for providing a copy for review.