Hellgoing by Lynn Coady


A reviewer on Goodreads had this to say about Hellgoing which made me laugh: “I don’t like books that make me feel stupid.”

Hellgoing didn’t exactly make me feel stupid, but I was left a little perplexed after some of the stories because I would arrive at the ending and not understand what had just happened. I never got the point of some stories. I had a similar experience reading Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro a few months ago which makes me wonder if I’m just too inexperienced with this type of storytelling to appreciate it yet.

Hellgoing is a collection of nine short stories by Canadian author, Lynn Coady. The stories feature a number of complex characters each with their own hellish demons and obsessions, failures and unrequited dreams. In 2013, the collection won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a prestigious literary award here in Canada.

Hellgoing is a stunning tour de force of writing and I liked it because it captured the idiosyncrasies of regular people that one may catch a glimpse of, but probably choose to ignore because it’s just too weird to go there. But Lynn Coady’s writing has punch and humour, so you feel less intimidated getting to know some of these wacked characters so intimately. There are quite a few memorable stories, but I think my favourite was Take This and Eat It which is about a pretty laidback nun at a hospital who becomes disgusted by the self-destructive behaviour of others.

The “wait, what?” factor that plagues some of these stories as a result of not enough backstory, details about characters and abrupt, ambiguous endings. However, is this just the way it is with short stories?

The more and more I look back on the short stories in Hellgoing, the more I appreciate their unique qualities. I realize now that maybe there is no point, no lesson to be learned, that it is all a snapshot of a moment when characters are caught up in their emotional baggage. What a tremendous feat to translate that craziness into a story and Lynn Coady has my respect for doing so with Hellgoing.

3.5/5 Stars

But what about those sudden endings, gaps and lack of details? Is this common in short stories? How do you feel about short stories written in this manner?


5 comments on “Hellgoing by Lynn Coady

  1. Brian Joseph
    August 29, 2014

    The structure of these stories sound interesting, but as per your commentary, perhaps a little frustrating.

    I like to read such challenging things and try to figure out what the author was getting at. Sometimes I think that I make good suppositions as to what it is all about, sometimes I have no idea.

    I do find these unusual styles refreshing change from more conventional stories.


  2. ebookclassics
    August 29, 2014

    I was frustrated, but I’ll keep trying! I think this collection is very unconventional and you might enjoy it.


  3. Naomi
    September 4, 2014

    I have had the same experience with some short stories I have read, including a few of Alice Munro’s. I sometimes wish there was someone there to explain it to me. I think you’re right that some are not meant to have a deep meaning, that they are just snapshots of someone’s life (often someone a little unusual). I ended up reading We So Seldom Look on Love by Barbara Gowdy, and it was full of quirky characters. I can imagine that would be half the fun of writing stories- imagining the hard to imagine.


    • ebookclassics
      September 4, 2014

      Hi, how are you? How was your summer? I like that description: “imagining the hard to imagine”. I read We So Seldom Look on Love quite a number of years ago and I liked it specifically because all of the characters and stories were quirky. Is that a Canadian thing? Then I read The White Bone which was so sad. Not quirky one bit.


      • Naomi
        September 4, 2014

        Great summer! How was yours?
        I haven’t read many short story collections that are not Canadian, so that is a good question. We need a short story expert! I also read The White Bone, which I loved. It seems I really like depressing stories about animals. 🙂


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