There was a moment last week when I was reading on the bus and I angled the pages away so that the person beside me wouldn’t accidentally cast their eye over them and move seats in outrage. The book in question was June Caldwell’s collection of short stories Room Little Darker and the story was ‘Leitrim Flip’. It’s about a couple who are into kink and so they meet with a like-minded couple to enjoy swinging and S&M. However the tables are turned when the second couple imprison the first and force them to behave like pet dogs. It sounds creepy and bizarre and pretty close to the edge, and it’s all of those things, but it’s also very very funny.
Caldwell takes on many subjects in the eleven stories included in the collection. ‘The Glens of Antrim’ is more S&M, with salty descriptions of kinky sex amongst virtual strangers. ‘Imp of the Perverse’ depicts how a woman unravels as a result of rejection by her manipulative lecturer: ‘Cheek of that philistine citing my behaviour as inappropriate when he uses the course as fanny fodder all the time and no one blinks an ethical eyelid!’
‘SOMAT’, previously included in Sinead Gleeson’s Long Gaze Back anthology, is one of the strongest and most emotionally affecting of the stories. It is told from the point of view of a foetus and was partly inspired by the death of Marlise Muñoz as well as our own Eighth Amendment.
Caldwell has a way with language, a style of writing completely unlike any other Irish female writer I’ve read. It’s acerbic, confrontational, hilarious, very sexual but not in a coy or titillating way, and it’s filled to the brim with idiosyncratic vivid descriptions: a loved one’s mouth with a ‘seagull-in-flight upper lip’, a laugh ‘like he’d swallowed an antique television full of static’, an old man described as a ‘sack of crumpled grey maudlin’.
Room Little Darker is Caldwell’s first book. She worked as a journalist for many years and is a prize-winning short story writer with a raft of achievements to her name. She’s just signed up with Rogers Coleridge and White, one of the biggest agencies in London, so I’m sure Room Little Darker will be picked up for international publication and will mark the start of a long and brilliant career.