‘Cell’ by Wendy Erskine

Wendy Erskine’s two volumes of stories are both equally brilliant. I was tempted to include the superb ‘Inakeen’ from her debut collection Sweet Home, but finally chose the longest story from her second collection, Dance Move. ‘Cell’ tells the story of an impressionable and naïve young Belfast woman, Caro, who after graduating from UCL, comes under the controlling influence of a radical and cultish, left-wing group. Her circumstances appear to be close to modern slavery as she is isolated from the outside world, conditioned into accepting her subservient role as general dogsbody to domineering Bridget and Luis. The only other resident left in the house—others have long gone and established new lives, and original group leader Bill was killed in a road traffic accident—is the older and infirm Maurice, a principled and diffident intellectual, who was once Bill’s partner and is now too weak to leave his bedroom. Aside from the richness and vitality of the characters and the narrative—Wendy Erskine’s stories are full to bursting with life in all its various shades—what impresses most about this story is the deft handling of time. How it sways back and forth between the present and the past so effortlessly. What transpires is shocking and appalling and heart-rending, made more so by the ingenious way the intricate narrative is revealed, gradually and naturally, to the reader.

Collected in Dance Move, The Stinging Fly Press 2022, Picador 2022

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