‘Small Animals’ by Alison Moore

I first came across Alison Moore in another Nightjar chapbook, ‘When the Door Closed, It Was Dark’ and I’ve been a fan ever since. Having said that, for full disclosure, I should perhaps own up to the fact that the one time I was given a shortlist to judge anonymously that included one of her stories, I somehow managed to pass it over altogether in the year before she was shortlisted for the Booker. The moral is, don’t ask me to judge your competition.
‘Small Animals’ is the story of friends Heather and Marilyn going to visit a third woman, Kath, who lives in a house built into the rock with a sheer cliff edge up one side of the road and a sheer drop on the other. Heather is a child psychologist, and it turns out that Kath has a troubled child, Nina, who seems to have been behaving disruptively.  Heather suspects that Kath has invited her there to assess Nina. However, what actually turns out is far more sinister and a hell of a lot weirder.
In the world of Alison Moore, everything would be fine were it not for that brooding sense of unease that pervades everything. The power of her writing, I think, comes from the fact that there is a lot of bad stuff going on, but it’s going on out of shot: to the side of the action or even after the action finishes. It’s left to the reader to fill in the gaps, if they dare.

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

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