Books From The Pantry: Lonely by Robin Barratt: Reviewed by Shannon Milsom



Lonely is an often poignant and touching poetry and short story compilation, put together by publisher and writer Robin Barratt. In the compilation there are 118 contributions from 57 writers, each with their own unique and culturally different way of writing.

Why a compilation on loneliness, one might ask?  Robin’s answer is simple:

‘Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and no matter what sort of lives we have led, or are leading, most of us at some point have felt, or feel, lonely or alone.’

Loss, is of course, a key theme, and one which many of the writers in Lonely chose to describe, such as in Courtney Speedy’s short story ‘But I Loved You All the Same’.  The story describes in vivid and unusual rhyming prose the loss of one man’s wife to mental illness. The reader gets a real insight into how bright and wonderful and chaotic everything was before the woman’s mind deteriorated, and how, even though he has moved on, the narrator still yearns for her.

‘I can still smell you on my pillow and taste you in my morning coffee.’

Dadby Maire Malone explores the theme of loss of a parent in her short but sweet poem.  Gentle memories of a father lend the lines a dreamlike quality that lets the reader observe small yet poignant snapshots of someone’s life.

‘I was a child again running down the lane

For your ounce of Condor or packet of Gillette’s’

Although lots of the poems and stories are full of descriptive, emotive and provoking language, some of my favourites are those which are subtle and thought-provoking in the way they almost matter-of-factly describe the feeling of being lonely.

Lonelinessby Margaret Clough illustrates this in such a way.

‘I hold a book that I have read before. My fingers, as they turn a page, can feel the emptiness between the lines.’

The poem gives the reader a look into the seemingly joyless and bleak life of someone living alone. The monotonousness and mundaneness of the descriptions emote a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Then the last line, in its simplicity, makes you stop and pause:

‘I have stopped listening for the phone to ring’.

One day in Spring’ by Kathleen Boyle is another piece of writing with artful subtleness. Kathleen’s short story deals with death and loneliness. The world is described to you through the eyes of an old woman, Joan, who knows her time on this Earth is nearly up.  The descriptions of what she observes in her last day are poignant in their beauty, for you are aware, as the character is, that this is the last time she will see them:

‘Joan acknowledged that this day, with its puffs of white cloud drifting high above the little town, the intermittent sunshine brightening pink blossomed trees and crocus strewn grass verges, was a different day.’

Joan’s transition into death is again, subtly written and moving. As the reader, you get attached to the character of Joan throughout the story. You feel her last day is lonely and not without sadness and regret, but also that she is ready and acceptant of death. The last line, understated and exquisite, gives Joan her final release.

‘Pain free, she stood and stepped away into the dark.’

Loneliness is the most human of emotions. So simple and yet also so complex in its many forms. Lonely manages to capture the essence of this, with each writer painting their own intricate picture of what they perceive loneliness to be. The reader is privileged to be able to dip into the book and step into one of these snapshots of human emotion at any time; each so different from the next.

Ultimately, this is what makes this compilation so engrossing, magical and utterly relatable. As human beings we have all felt some degree of loneliness. Whether it be the heartbreak of losing a spouse or family member, or the quietness of solitude when living alone; what makes Lonely so brilliant is that it explores these feelings from all angles and backgrounds.  





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