Short Stories Challenge – The Agency by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Published October 1, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s The Agency all about?:

From Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Sarah Hall comes a collection of unique and disturbing short fiction hailed as a sensation by UK reviewers. In the Agency, a bored housewife and mother finds a new and strange club to belong to that she has been looking for all her life.

What did I think?:

Fans of Sarah Hall will already know of the strength and beauty of her writing but every time I read one of the stories in this collection I am always amazed by the delicate way in which she crafts her tale, as if every single word has been taken into account and chosen especially for that particular story. The ending, as always, is fairly abrupt which may not be to everyone’s taste but I always appreciate how much longer it keeps me thinking and mulling over the story in my own mind, to make some sort of sense of it.

The Agency is about a woman named Hannah who is a stay at home mother of two children and just recently, has become very unsatisfied in her own life and her marriage. She has been somewhat uplifted by meeting Anthea at the school gates, whose child also goes to the same school as her own children. Anthea gives her a much needed lifeline by introducing her to a small group of women who enjoy spending money, drinking wine and sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and confessions with each other. Anthea is also the one who presents Hannah with a business card for a select club known only as The Agency, after Hannah confesses that her marriage has become stale and that she was almost tempted into an affair with her husband’s brother, even if it was just to shake things up a bit:

“I had been married for fourteen years. There had been no crimes committed on either side. There was so little to regret. But in the end, thinking of our life together made no difference. It was as if love had become scentless, bloodless, it had somehow lost its vitality.”

Anthea reassures Hannah that it is okay for women to have secrets, she deserves to be part of the “club,” and it was probably better to join or her desires would eventually consume her. Hannah makes the appointment and is told there will be an initial consultation before something appropriate is set up. By this point in the story, I was perfecting my Alice in Wonderland “curiouser and curiouser” frown on my face and was desperate to know what it was all about. The truth is, it’s an incredibly different sort of club where all the members are women and all requirements are met. Hannah is terribly nervous about her first appointment but comes back an incredibly satisfied lady. She has a bruise on her hip that she has already worked out how she will explain to her husband although the marks on her wrists will have to be covered until they disappear. The stockings she was wearing that now have a visible ladder are immediately discarded and covered up with other rubbish lest they be found. When Anthea asks where she has been for the day, Hannah explains that she was visiting a relative and Anthea laughs knowingly and says “Of course darling, of course.” End of story!

I read this story two times and I definitely appreciated it more second time round. The writing as I mentioned before is beautiful and I loved how the author built the story piece by piece, dropping a few clues along the way. I also love how she doesn’t shy away from potentially taboo subjects and the reader is exposed to them either ever so gently or with a bit of a jolt. This is a really interesting little story that will be playing on my mind for a while and I can’t wait to read the next in the collection.

Would you recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

2 comments on “Short Stories Challenge – The Agency by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

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