Monday, 21 January 2013

'Next Stop: Sejer Island' by Andrea Heiberg

Andrea Heiberg’s short story collection, ‘Next Stop: Sejer Island’, is an adroit introduction to this extremely talented writer.  It appears a rather slight collection, just 84 pages in the Salt publication that I read.  There are eight stories here, of varying lengths, but all eight have a cohesive bond in that they present snapshots of life on the isolated Sejer Island, where Heiberg calls home.

Andrea Heiberg's 'Next Stop: Sejer Island'

In Denmark, Heiberg is known for her work in the theatre (she has had work performed on television there), but there are huge ellipses in her writing life – theatre in the 80s, and then little or nothing until the early 2000s.  During this time she clearly honed her talent for writing in English, and ‘Next Stop: Sejer Island’ is untranslated.  She displays a deft ear for English, and at many times throughout this collection, Heiberg’s prose sings beautifully.

A few stories in this collection, despite their brevity, reach novelistic depth.  ‘Numbers Never Lie’, the seventh story, details the town council meeting where the locals discuss the future of their island and the report that states the island will soon run out of natural water.  It is a story that take in high comedy and island-wide tragedy in the same breath; one wished to spend longer in its company.   The story ‘Solemente Para Tus Ojos’ impressed me most: the narrator accidently receives a letter intended for a distant neighbour, so she returns it to the post office, who suggest she deliver it herself.  The intended recipient, Maribell, is a wonderful creation, a mess of contradictions who thinks nothing of angering her neighbours if she thinks it is for the best.  Maribell’s letter, however, brings news that will irrevocably alter both her and the narrator forever.  It is wonderfully handled, expansive in brevity, and genuinely moving.

The short story is a difficult form to write in, and it bests many brilliant writers.  It is easy for short stories to become schematic – inciting incident, observation, change (sometimes with a twist or a kick) – and a couple of stories here still feel incomplete, ‘A Kingdom for a Kalashnikov’ contains many beautifully arresting moments, but its conclusion feels overworked, too emphatic; it strives to be more than it is, or than it contains.  On the flipside, ‘Interpreting Golf Rule Number 25 Part B on Sejer Island’ is so brief it is no more than a joke Heiberg’s been unable to find room for so has included it here without much thought.  However, when Heiberg does get it right – in ‘Solemente Para Tus Ojos’, ‘Numbers Never Lie’ and ‘Where There is Fish, There is Hope’ – when she manages to create an entire world in just a few short paragraphs, her work truly sings beautifully.

‘Next Stop: Sejer Island’ then is like most short story collections, a work that dazzles, confounds and disappoints depending upon the story – I am not sure I have read many collections where every story is an unalloyed masterpiece, I can perhaps count them on one hand – so this should not be read as a negative judgement on Heiberg’s collection.  She has done better than most, and ‘Next Stop: Sejer Island’ is an exquisite collection of miniature’s whose cohesive quality elevates the material into minor brilliance.  She is a talented writer, worth your time.

If you want to buy 'Next Stop: Sejer Island' it is available from Salt Publishing, a small press who deserve your attention.  Buy it directly from them, they're lovely people.

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