Bite-size and bittersweet, Cathy Sweeney writes miniscule short stories that are reminiscent of Beckett and Blindboy, writes Ellen McGrath, reviewing a sparkling debut collection.

The stories are rarely longer than two pages, and Sweeney writes fleeting, distanced snapshots, detailing absurdist impressions of modern life. There is, for instance, the woman becoming disillusioned with her marriage and family, and noticing she is turning blue.

Read a story from Modern Times by Cathy Sweeney here. 

These short tales are poignant, but we don't spend long enough with any character to really feel connected to them, and the stories are so many, coming at you so quickly that reading Modern Times can become a blur, and feel like a very bizarre experience indeed.

Sweeney's stories come across like strange dreams and there is an element of magic realism at play - that woman turning blue, then there is a woman with too many mouths. One story concerns a meeting between a woman and her daughter in a museum and all the woman can think about is the blister on her foot and how it wears against her sock.

Every story is oddly disturbing, but one can’t exactly put the finger on the reason why. Even the lengths of most of the stories - two, three pages, seven at most - mean we don’t catch too much to ground ourselves in the story, reinforcing that dreamlike state.

Cathy Sweeney’s stories remind me of trying to keep water in your cupped hands - possible for a moment, then it slips away. Overall, an amusing, enjoyable read, and perfect for public transport.

Ellen McGrath