Alison Moore’s 2012 novel “The Lighthouse” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Now Biblioasis, a Canadian publisher, has reissued Moore’s 2013 story collection “The Pre-War House,” first published in England. The characters in Moore’s stories are often trapped in houses. Sometimes doors are left unlocked and windows open, allowing something evil to enter.
In “When the Door Closed, It Was Dark,” an au pair leaves England’s “purifying [autumn] chill” to work in a foreign country where cultural misunderstandings can turn deadly. The heat and the country’s customs suffocate her. In her room in a flat in a “block of flats,” “the window … did not open; the frame appeared to have been painted shut.” The family she works for takes her passport, ostensibly for safekeeping. After an incident on the stairs to the fourth-floor flat, the au pair Tina might never return to England.
In “It Has Happened Before,” a neighborhood man, someone’s husband and brother, disappears again. A year later, he’s found in the home of the local postman lying naked and dazed “on a waterproof sheet … spotlights trained on the bed.” The similarly eerie “Sometimes You Think You Are Alone” concerns a woman who wakes “in a plastic-covered armchair” in her abductor’s house.
When they aren’t trapped, Moore’s characters wander off or daydream of leaving home. In the poignant “Jetsam,” a story of sea creatures, a man dons his deceased father’s diving gear and walks for the last time into the sea.
I envy Moore’s talent. Consider, for example, her use of second person point of view in “Sometimes You Think You Are Alone,” her description of the factory in “The Machines” or her terrifying ghost story “Small Animals.”
As good as these 24 stories are, I read them a few at a time. It’s difficult to dwell for long in a world of loss and regret, depravity and madness. Because many stories are told in present tense by a third person or omniscient narrator, they also sometimes blend together stylistically, another reason to step away for a few hours from the house of Moore’s fiction. For me, it was impossible to stay away long, however.
The book’s title story, the last and longest, ends on a note of resignation, even hope. The house once owned by the narrator’s great-grandmother might be seen as integrating, metaphorically, all of the preceding houses, thus lessening their sorrow a little. As the narrator locks the door and departs, she silences for the last time “the sounds of an old house aching,” and with it perhaps the sounds of houses along the coast of Cornwall and in Leicester and in other places Moore’s protagonists have lived.
Anthony Bukoski lives in Superior, Wis. In April, Nodin Press published his new collection, “Head of the Lakes: Selected Short Stories.”
The Pre-War House and Other Stories
By: Alison Moore.
Publisher: Biblioasis, 288 pages, $14.95.