Author: Dreena Collins
Image credit: Dreena Collins
A scorned lover, a lonely, disillusioned old man, a little girl who does not speak, a man struggling to care for his mother and young son. These are a few of the characters in The Blue Hour. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The people whose stories are not often told, but arguably should be.
I found the short stories in The Blue Hour to be a candid look into the cracks and holes in society that the most vulnerable often fall into. These short stories are weaved with twists and turns, but often come back to the themes of love, loss and sacrifice. Any reader would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for these characters. There is rarely a happy ending but, true to life, people in such circumstances rarely do have happy endings.
I would compare the author’s style to that of Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but more contemporary for a modern audience. The twists, all largely unexpected, invite the reader to re-read the stories to spot the clues: a clever tactic. Dreena creates strong images with her writing, often focusing on the little details. As a reader, I felt more like a fly on the wall while reading these stories, a fly that has somehow found its way into the house to spy on people’s private and intimate lives. I could almost see the action playing out, like a film.
One of the stand-out techniques of Dreena’s writing is that focus on the smallest details: the way people move, the way people speak, the tiny gestures people make that most of us would miss going about our daily lives. Often such small, seemingly inconsequential things, can tell the whole story.
An extract from the first story, Little Gems And Riches, is an example of how the author paints a picture of a character in an interesting and unusual way. In this case, Arthur, an elderly man:
He turned back to make the long journey to the kitchen again. He shuffled in his pyjama bottoms, feet poking out from open slippers, nails and toes both peeling like baby snail shells. This was the indignity of having to move.
While reading Little Gems And Riches, I could almost physically feel Arthur’s effort - and perhaps even pain - in moving around; his confusion and struggle in having to keep on top of everything; his unhappiness in his obviously strained relationship with his son. The image of the character is built so well that I could just tell, even before Arthur spoke, that this was a tired, slightly grumpy old man, a bit set in his ways. Even though the story is not told from Arthur’s POV, I felt that it was definitely Arthur’s world I had been sucked into. I sympathised with Arthur, and with his anguish, at the end; I had become fully immersed in his world, and it was a shocking conclusion to see his world shattered.
Let Me Tell You A Story was one of my favourite stories in this collection. This story is about a little girl who does not speak, who is under constant pressure from her school and father to fit in. I gathered from the story that the girl perhaps has learning difficulties, but whether she does or simply chooses not to speak is left up to interpretation.
The author uses the image of an old coat to describe how it feels to not quite fit in, and I feel this is a perfect and powerful analogy, especially for a young character:
You see, I feel like I am that old coat sometimes. Almost right, but not quite right. Almost myself, yet not. Stitched up and sewn back together, a little bit wrong. And everyone else can see it. They can see the stitches, where I am broken.
I used to work as a support worker for people with autism and learning difficulties who were also non-verbal or spoke only a little. For me, this story sums up the frustration that I have witnessed in so many of these people as they struggle to be understood by others. Like the little girl in this story, they are often misunderstood by the community as having ‘nothing to say’ when the reality is that we can communicate in many other ways other than speech, and we regularly do.
I would say that there is an important lesson in this story: that we should not judge people against others and instead try to understand people as individuals. It seems that the root of this little girl’s suffering is from being compared to others and being held up to everybody’s expectations of her, rather than people making an effort to engage her in a way she might feel comfortable with. It is, overall, a heartbreaking story but I would consider the ending a happy one.
This is the excerpt that convinced me to purchase the book, from Something Old, Something New:
He had morphed, in her eyes, into someone else - into two people. He was both the Adam she had known and loved, and yet this other Adam: this liar, this cheat. He was both of these people. Popping in and out of focus. And it was impossible to resolve this neatly. For one to erase the other. Because both versions of him were true.
I feel that, although the entire story is beautifully crafted and gently unravels into an unexpected twist, this paragraph sums up the heart of it. As someone who has known a man like Adam and been in the same situation as Claire, I cannot emphasise enough that this is exactly how it feels to find out an image-altering truth about a person. The truth cannot always erase the lie that we so desperately wish to hold on to. I feel that Claire’s story perfectly captures the difficulty of how hard it is to let go of someone you love who is not all they appear to be. Throughout the story, Claire attempts to clarify her thoughts, alternately trying to convince herself that Adam would not be a good person to build a future with, but ultimately falls back on her infatuation. It could be argued by some that perhaps Claire is not a good person; however, I would say that she is perhaps the most ‘real’ of all the characters that appear in The Blue Hour. This is a story that I feel many people could connect to, and I also believe it has great social relevance.
The stories in The Blue Hour lead to a few unanswered questions for the reader, for example: I don’t know for sure who the man in Connie’s photograph is in The Best Things or what role he might have had in leading to her current circumstances, but I can make a guess. I also have my suspicions on what relation Katie might be to the mother in The Blue Hour, the titular story. However, I don’t find these few missing answers frustrating; rather, it’s nice as a reader to be allowed to ponder sometimes. Just as in real life, we will never know the full extent of everyone’s story, and I feel that is rather fitting to this collection of stories; an interesting series of snapshots into character’s lives that leaves the reader wanting more.
About The Author
Dreena Collins was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, where she now works in education. She has been shortlisted and longlisted in several writing competitions, including the Wells Festival of Literature Short Story Competition, and the Bridport Prize. Previous publications include poetry featured in Mslexia magazine and Interchange periodical, as well as a short story in the Eyelands International Collection (2018).
Dreena plans to release a second collection of short stories in June.
Image credit: Dreena Collins
The Blue Hour is available to buy on Amazon.
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