Ruin and Other Stories
Written by: Emma Hislop
Te Herenga Waka University Press
Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown
Ruin and Other Stories is a series of short stories about women who are on the edge of ruin and how their lives have been completely rewritten by the actions of a man. Women who will always be looked at for what they did and didn’t do, what they did and didn’t know. “Sabine knew, they didn’t really think of her. They thought about him and the things he did.”
Power imbalance bleeds through every story and not just in the behaviour of men. There’s the stickiness of friends and sisters, twisted dynamics that unravel and tighten. Love that doesn’t always go the distance. These are stories of women who lose their power again and again and struggle to see their way through. Hislop’s writing makes you feel like you’re slipping into the skin of her characters, that their lives could easily be yours, and the questions they face you may have to one day answer.
Ruin and Other Stories hones in on the fear of what wasn’t done and asks big questions. What is consent when you’re trying to protect someone? When do you stop trying to help? How do you know that what you did was enough?
It is not a book that can be easily devoured in one sitting. There is rape and paedophilia in almost every story. There is no break. And although not described, the relentless repetition serves as a reminder. Assault doesn’t just sometimes happen to one person,
it is not just one person’s story – it happens a lot and we can’t ignore that.
Some of the stories blur together and some stand out more than others. But Ruin and Other Stories stands as an important reminder that we still have power imbalances and some of us may have forgotten that. These women have hands that are full of nails but no hammer. How do they rebuild from ruin and who will help them?