Did you love Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’? I mean the book, before it became a massive TV hit?
If so, then pick up a copy of McHugh’s debut short story collection. The stories’ settings, tone and writing style all reminded me of Rooney’s novel.*
Several of McHugh’s eight short stories focus on that awkward period of life – the end of school/start of living in the real-world years.
Most are set in rural or small-town Ireland and examine the nuances of strained relationships, either between pals or lovers.
I couldn’t find a single likeable character in the collection- which is actually an achievement. McHugh’s storytelling doesn’t rely on empathy. Instead he shines a light on the uglier side of familiar life, the destructive rivalries and crippling insecurities that bubble just under the surface.
‘The First Real Time’ recounts an awkward loss of virginity, ‘Howrya Horse’ details an ill-fated house party playing host to a young couple on the ropes, and ‘Twelve Pubs’ tells the tale of school friends reunited at Christmas, struggling to suppress decade-old secrets.
The final story, “A Short Story’, was the standout. Or more specifically, the final three pages of the final short story when McHugh’s style becomes more reflective.
For me, it was the saving grace and meant that while I didn’t love ‘Pure Gold’, I finished the collection knowing I would read more from McHugh. A solid debut
*So much so, I wasn’t at all surprised to see Rooney singled out for thanks in the author’s acknowledgements.