‘Shirley from a Small Place’ by Alexia Arthurs

Arthurs writes in a beautifully unpretentious manner that weaves in shrewd social observations with great emotional acuity. The Shirley in this story is obviously based on Rihanna, and I love the chutzpah and sheer sense of fun in that! From the obvious Rihanna references (who doesn’t love Rihanna?) to its incredibly “literary” title, this story is both a hoot and technically impressive. With such a premise it might easily have veered toward yet another commentary about celebrity culture that perpetuates the vapidity, excess and so-whatness it critiques – but what you get instead is a moving study of the complex, tensile currents of feeling between mothers and daughters.

First published in Granta 143, July 2019 and available online here. Collected in How to Love a Jamaican, Picador, 2018