What’s The Nightlong River all about?:
The Nightlong River is told from the point of view of a young girl whose closest friend is ailing and not thought to live much longer. She makes her a mink coat to keep her warm in the winter, catching the mink herself with the help of her brothers.
What did I think?:
This is the penultimate story in Sarah Hall’s beautiful collection of strange, warped but endlessly fascinating collection. So, five stories in I’ve kind of learned what to expect from the author but it always ends up being a wonderful surprise. All the tales are told from the point of view of a female character, differing in age but always with an unbelievable internal strength who are usually going through a difficult period in their lives. In The Nightlong River we are given the perspective of Dolly whose best friend Magda is desperately ill with a skeletal frame, protuberances that can be felt underneath her armpits and excessive vaginal bleeding.
Magda has been to the doctor but they are finding it difficult to find out what is wrong with her – ah, the mysteries of the woman’s internal cycle! One doctor concludes that it must be something in her brain but Magda is a little loath to undergo surgery as she has been told there is no guarantee she would be left “intellectually intact,” despite the improvements in neurosurgery after the Great War. Instead, she continues to bleed and becomes weaker with each day. Her poor friend Dolly is at her wits end over what she can do to help, in the end all she wants to “is keep her warm” and the notion enters her head that she will make her friend a beautiful mink coat that will protect her from the worst of the freezing winter temperatures.
The mink are becoming a bit of a nuisance for Dolly’s community so it is also a perfect opportunity for Dolly to go out hunting with her brothers and nab herself some mink, she believes around eight pellets will do the trick. The rest of the story describes Dolly’s slog as she hunts down the mink, skins them herself and then toils all hours of the day and night to complete the coat for Magda in time for Christmas.
Sarah Hall writes in such a way that it was an absolute pleasure to get to the end and immediately begin reading it again. The prose is truly beautiful and really makes you feel the icy wind and snow of the North of England. As with the previous stories I have read in this collection, there is an element of darkness and in The Nightlong River our darkness is mainly provided by the spectre of Mr Death himself who you feel lurking ominously among the pages:
“The truth of death is a peculiar thing. For there was a fascination to these evenings that went past utility or sport. We were in the hinterlands, a wilding place, where the reign was ours entirely. We were the wolves. We were the lions…. For when they leave us the beloved are as if they never were. They vanish from this earth and vanish from the air. What remains are moor and mountains, the solid world upon which we find ourselves, and in which we reign.”
The author’s descriptions of the landscape are gorgeous and very evocative and if it were not for the mention of the Great War, I may have placed this story as being set hundreds of years ago, it had that old-fashioned, gritty and endless toil feeling. I fell in love with Dolly immediately as a character, finding her bravery and determination to make that coat for her friend commendable yet heart-breaking. I can’t believe that there is only one more story in this collection to read, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, don’t want it to end and will definitely be looking out for more of Sarah Hall’s work in the future.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Narrative of Agent 97-4702 by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner.