Author: Emma Donoghue
Narrators: Khristine Hvam, James Langton, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren, and Dion Graham
Publication Year: 2012
Pages: 288 (audio length: 6 hours 31 minutes)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Short Stories
Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com
From the cover:
The fascinating characters that roam across the pages of Emma Donoghue’s stories have all gone astray: they are emigrants, runaways, drifters, lovers old and new. They are gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross other borders too: those of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, incognito or under duress.
With rich historical detail, the celebrated author of Room takes us from puritan Massachusetts to revolutionary New Jersey, antebellum Louisiana to the Toronto highway, lighting up four centuries of wanderings that have profound echoes in the present. Astray offers us a surprising and moving history for restless times.
I’ve read Donoghue’s books Room and Landing before, so I was happy to pick up the audio copy of Astray almost immediately after it was released. I wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy this book as much, as I usually prefer novels over short stories, but I wanted to give it a try.
In short, I’m happy that I did. While this is a short story collection, and the characters in each story are different, everything was tied together by theme. All of the stories were in some way about characters who have gone “astray”, and the book was further divided into sections with more specific themes (such as a section containing stories dealing with the theme of arrival at a destination). Each of the stories in the book is in some way written from the starting point of some kind of historical record; having said that, though, they are all fictionalized to a greater or lesser extent.
Donoghue is at her best when she’s delving into the emotional state of her characters, and this is something that is done particularly well in these stories. Astray is more about the characters and their struggles than about plot development, and even though most of the stories are set quite a bit in the past, there’s a timeless quality to the conflicts presented in the book that really struck me.
There were some stories that I enjoyed more than others, but I think this is largely due to personal preference. For example, I found it harder to stay focused on a story about a soldier, but far easier to maintain interest in a story about a seemingly upper-class woman working as a sex worker to support her household.
The narrators did a wonderful job of bringing life to each of the stories. I usually prefer books that are done by a single narrator, or perhaps two, but having more narrators allowed for a broader range of characters and emotions to be easily understood.
Pick up Astray if you’ve enjoyed the rest of Donoghue’s writing, or if you like historical fiction or character-driven short stories.