‘Small Animals’ by Alison Moore

‘Who’s Nina?’ Asked Heather.
‘Nina,’ said Marilyn, shattering the nut’s thin shell, catching the pieces in her hand and tidying them back into the bowl, ‘is Kath’s daughter.’ She ran her eyes around the room – the walls, the sideboard, the shelves – looking, thought Heather, for a photo, but not finding one. ‘She’s five,’ said Marilyn. ‘She’s the spit of Kath.’

Alison Moore broke out with her wonderful novel The Lighthouse, an unsettling, minimal exploration of unease and longing, followed by Death and the Seaside, its equally off-beat sibling. It will be no breach of confidence to say she has been shepherded to her success by Nicholas Royle, commissioning editor at Salt, and the mind behind Nightjar Press – himself the king of haunting brevity in his own short stories, collected in such books as Ornithology and Dummy, as well as novels such as Antwerp and First Novel. I see his influence at work, but that is not to denigrate in any way Moore’s innate skill and talent. Her story ‘Late’ (which also appears in The Pre-War House and Other Stories) is perfection; in its febrile interiority it feels, to me, like a mixture of Guy de Maupassant and Joyce Carol Oates, with an ending that’s an emotional gut-punch. But, for all that, her masterwork, for me, is ‘Small Animals’ in which two women visit a child and imperceptibly growing unease rises to a disturbing, head-spinning revelation.

First published as a chapbook by Nightjar Press 2012; collected in The Pre-War House and Other Stories, Salt 2013

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