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by A. L. Kennedy
Reviewed by Carolyn Kelly

There are a few book titles out there that may suggest a line of a song, floating like a feather into my head, or even get me singing a few bars, but never has an earworm so utterly entered my brain as diligently as this one, as I found myself asking myself, in increasingly mournful and tuneless tones: What does, indeed, become of the broken‒hearted?

A.L. Kennedy is brilliant. There, I've firmly nailed my colours to the mast, but if you've read any of her books, you'll surely agree. And this, her latest collection of short stories, does not disappoint. Kennedy gives us an entirely moving ensemble of tales, each of which concerns, not to put too fine a point on it, a psychological wreck. Passion, catastrophe, dramas of the soul ‒ all are present here, as we accompany lonely individuals, who have experienced the trauma of some loss or other, through their desperate, everyday existence. Oh, am I making it sound too blue? You don't know the half of it. Jilted lovers are left contemplating their vegetables, husbands buckle under an awful weight of guilt, strangers are left bereft after a night of nameless and very graphic sex, hard men have to deal with lost limbs, children are abandoned by a parent, a banker is wiped out by the financial crisis, anonymous phone calls are made, a family pet goes missing ‒ these and many other scenarios are treated in gripping, cynical and magnificent prose. Of course, A.L. Kennedy is also a stand-up comedian, so thankfully the stories are littered with witty observations, wry comments and hilarious jokes. This means that, while you're laughing your head off, Kennedy can quite subtly whip in and rip out your heart.

This panorama of desperation finds a wonderful medium in the form of the short story, as Kennedy utilises stream‒of‒consciousness with bravura to take us inside the heads of her characters. As in her recent novel, Day, I was especially impressed by the way in which she managed to capture a particular strain of male panic, confusion and perversion. I had to ask myself, time and again: "How does she do that?" It is a master class of philanthropic pessimism.

A.L. Kennedy shows us that, while many relationships fail, each fails in its own special way. Life is full of the walking wounded. In this masterpiece, we get to share in the aura of the missed chance and what was lost. It is a delicious privilege.