Book review: Astray

BOOK: Astray
AUTHOR: Emma Donoghue
PUBLISHER: Picador (Pan Macmillan)
RRP $29.99

EMMA Donoghue's Astray is a collection of short stories filled with fascinating characters, of con merchants, runaways, emigrants and imaginary villains, not to mention mercenaries, prostitutes, lawyers and even a corpse.

The stories are all based on true accounts of scenarios that take place across the vast expanse of time and distance, crossing borders of race, law, sex and even sanity.

Each story unfolds in its own unique way; some are quite beautiful while others are haunting.

One of my favourites in this collection was about an animal trainer who looked after Jumbo, a destructive elephant who goes on a rampage at the London Zoo.

When Jumbo is sold to circus bigwig Barnum the strong ties that bind keeper and elephant are evident.

Jumbo is unsettled and won't board to cross the ocean to his new home unless his handler comes with him.

With both safely booked passage Jumbo lived happily for another four years with his best friend beside him.

Another story, The Hunt, is a confession of one American soldier's betrayal during the American Revolution.

It is brutal and confronting and it's not hard to understand why it has been shortlisted for 2012 Sunday Times Short Story awards.

Donoghue describes the plot hatched by a slave with his master's wife to set them both free; she also takes us to an early Puritan community unsettled by an invented sex scandal.

This is a wonderful, diverse and deeply fascinating series of stories.

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