‘The Woman the Book Read’ by Sarah Hall

“That same sensation, of wanting to hold her. She’d been a restless soul, would often shrug him off. ‘Küçük kuş.’ He’d loved teaching her words, little phrases. Sentences were harder, she didn’t understand the order of the syntax, but then neither had he at first, in reverse.”

The title of this story, with the noun at the beginning and the verb at the end, grammatically mimics how sentences are constructed in Turkish. In a Mediterranean coastal town in Turkey (possibly Kaş) a local man sitting at a café notices a young woman tourist when her female companion calls out her name. Her unusual name ‘Ara’ suddenly unleashes the past. Both comforting and painful memories run through his mind as he stealthily follows the two women down to the beach. Hall masterfully guides the reader through the tension generated in every moment. Until, near the end, when the nature of their past relationship becomes clear, the reader is kept on the hook, questioning the man’s intentions, whether he will get spotted by Ara or eventually have the courage to walk up to her and say hello. In 2018, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hall for the Turkish online newspaper ‘T24’. During our discussion, while referring to ‘Who Pays?’ – a fairy-tale-like story of hers loosely also set in Turkey – I asked the author about her experience of setting a story in a country which she’s not from. Hall had responded, “There is something about the short story form that allows you to go in and come out. You don’t necessarily need to have known the place all your life. Whereas this wouldn’t be possible in a novel.”

First published in The New Statesman, July 2019, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Sudden Traveller, Faber & Faber, 2019

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