‘Cell’ by Wendy Erskine

I suspect all Wendy Erskine’s stories will eventually be included in these personal anthologies, and some, like ‘Cell’, more than once. It’s hard to choose a favourite from her collections, but this one includes all her strengths as a writer: depth of characterisation, subtle layering of place and time, humanity, empathy, and – even in a story as dark as this one – humour.  It shows us Caro – Caroline – an isolated and vulnerable Irish student adrift in London who is “adopted” into a small and inept political group, and is then effectively held captive for almost twenty-five years. It doesn’t feel like a political story, rather one of sad personal tragedy, but it contains real insight into how people in cults behave. There is a terrible incident early on, when Caroline meets Bridget, the leader, for the first time and she effectively has her name stripped from her by the other woman who insists on calling her Caro. And Caro she remains from that point onwards, belittled and diminished. As a glimpse of how a ruthlessly cruel person can undermine the identity of a potential victim by renaming and misnaming her, it’s profound and subtle and so fleeting you’d almost miss it.

Collected in Dance Move, Stinging Fly, 2022

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