‘On Day 21’ by Ruby Cowling

This Paradise is one of my favourite short story collections of recent years. When I was a judge for the 2020 Republic of Consciousness Prize, I wanted to champion her book for the long/shortlist – but unfortunately Boiler House Press were disqualified from entering, since UEA were the prize’s sponsor. Like many of Cowling’s stories, it wrongfoots and disorientates the reader. It starts out as a satire on our dependence on gadgets, focusing on a busy mother who has succumbed to technology and is able to switch her children on/off when they become too demanding. On a trip to a supermarket, she finds the switch no longer seems to work, perhaps due to overuse. In her subsequent panic, she wonders if it ever existed at all, so that we’re left uncertain whether we’re reading a sci-fi satire or the account of a mental breakdown.

First published in Wasafari, 2017 and available to read here; collected in This Paradise, Boiler House Press, 2019

‘This Paradise’ by Ruby Cowling

This story moves along with Cowling’s characteristic elegance towards a quietly dramatic end. I like the crisp prose and careful though unobtrusive analysis of family life in the lead up to an expected hurricane. There are some lovely cool observations dissecting the professional (academic?) couple within family life including their disinclination to shelter their gardener who faces the same force of the storm. These is a distance in their connection to their environment and towards their sons, a kind of heartlessness which the narrator, the children’s nanny or au pair, picks up. As she strains to maintain an equilibrium. I love the sense of the landscape in which the family live, which evokes their vulnerability.

First published in This Paradise, Boiler House Press, 2019