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The Loudest Sound and Nothing

Clare Wigfall

I wouldn’ve put myself a man who believed in destiny or nothing, not at that time, guess I was more of a free spirit, if you know what I mean, but it was the damnedest thing, ‘cause I knew straightaway when I saw her that she was the one, standing there like she was with the afternoon light behind her, the door bell still jinglin…"

Reviewed by Peter Hobb

The absences from Clare Wigfall’s masterful debut collection of stories resonate almost as powerfully as what is present. A brooding sense of loss recurs throughout. Sometimes information is withheld from the reader: in Night After Night, the narrator’s husband is arrested for an unspecified (and consequently more disturbing) crime. And sometimes the narrative revolves around what is missing: in Safe, babies are vanishing, all over the country, without explanation.

This sense of incompleteness tugs on the reader’s imagination, presents us with enough information to darkly conjure the rest. Then, when things are found – a baby in The Numbers, a body in When the Wasps Drowned, they too prove to be the result of hidden crimes. It seems that both secrets, as well as their unveiling, contain their own unique horrors.

Omissions, in any case, are no problem when you have a writer able do so much with so few words. Two of the very best stories in here, Caro at the Pool (in which the surface of the pool catches the light "in a way that looked almost like a sound too high to hear.") and A Return Ticket to Epsom, cover only seven pages between them, but in each Wigfall conjures a scene which provokes a wide range of emotions in the reader. Perfectly formed and coolly elegant, these two stories linger in the mind long afterwards, reminders of how short stories can be such a uniquely rewarding art.

Taken together, these stories read like expressions of a unique and compelling artistic vision. It almost conceals the impressive range covered in the collection. The Party’s Just Getting Started is set in contemporary, high society LA, Night After Night in post-war Britain. The stories range still further – to the nineteenth-century Paris of The Ocularist's Wife, and then, with the opening story, The Numbers, into a remote Island community in an uncertain time. There’s something otherworldly about this story, a brooding atmosphere also tapped into by the title story.

Wigfall moves between these territories effortlessly, creating her worlds with a wonderful economy, the perfectly weighted use of details and voice. She conjures an earthy dialect for The Numbers, and an easy twang for the Clyde Barrow-narrated Folks Like Us: "I wouldn’ve put myself a man who believed in destiny or nothing…" he begins.

The Loudest Sound and Nothing is the finest debut collection I’ve read since Clare Keegan’s Antarctica and like Keegan, Wigfall seems to have emerged as a talent fully-formed. These are sorrowful, disturbing and darkly beautiful stories, and they deserve, absolutely, to be read.

Intrigued? Read some of the stories from this collection on myspace.com/clarewigfall and Story

(This review was first published by Story.)

Peter Hobbs was born in 1973, and grew up in Cornwall and Yorkshire. His first novel, The Short Day Dying, won a Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and the International IMPAC award. It was followed by a collection of short stories I Could Ride All Day in My Cool Blue Train.


Publisher: Faber

Publication Date: August 2007


First collection?: Yes

Awards: UEA Curtis Brown Prize, 1999, Longlisted for the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.  The story The Numbers, from this collection, was awarded the 2008 BBC National Short Story Award. 

Author bio: Clare Wigfall was born in Greenwich, London during the summer of ‘76.  She grew up in Berkeley, California, and London, and now lives in Prague.  Her stories have been published in Prospect, New Writing 10, The Dublin Review, X-24, Tatler, Bordercrossing Berlin and commissioned for BBC Radio 4. 

Read an interview with Clare Wigfall

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Clare Keegan "Antarctica"

Ian McEwan "First Love, Last Rites"

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