Review: The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain by Judy Darley


Osob Warsame reviews The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain by Judy Darley from Reflex Press

The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain proves itself to be a unique collection of short stories that encapsulates uncertainty. Creating tales relatable to the intense emotions that have overwhelmed many in the sudden shift from pre-pandemic years to a future undetermined. Through the lens of characters, both named and nameless, Judy Darley explores several ideas, such as the passion of love and the belief that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. These studies of each complex character force the reader to confront endless anxieties that plague many but offer glimmers of hope throughout the collection. 

The distinctive worlds Darley builds delve into the surreal, amplified by multifaceted writing, but finds a way to ground itself into something recognisable. Standout worlds can be noticed in the oddness of the opening short story Self-Defence Against Yesterday to the lifelong lessons that can be extracted from Reasons Your Kefir Might Sour. These worlds exist within their own individual universe that set them apart yet carry the intricacy discovered within our own. Darley’s ability to form intriguing environments produces engaging scenarios in how each character interacts within it, several taking unexpected twists and turns along the way. Yet, the interaction between the characters and the environments produces questions of how we interact with our own.

This leads to the engaging issues that consume human relationships in the short stories. There are problems that follow characters from generation to generation, linking the recurring imagery of water that flows and connects each story despite their differences. This is prevalent in tales like The Sea Lives in Her Mum’s Head and Tidal Suck. Through these issues the characters confront, they illustrate their desire to become something more than the nature that confines them. They need to leave their earthly beings and find meaning in other aspects. This drives the motivations of each character resulting in captivating outcomes that may or may not produce a change. 

Darley is also able to evoke a sense of the everyday through current events, such as kids learning about the spread of COVID in The Rules of Contagion and the effect lockdown had on relationships in This To. Darley explores how the pandemic affected the lives of everyone, leaving no one untouched, and the complicated reactions created in a time of great uncertainty. These viewpoints allow us, as the reader, to empathise with these characters while also compelling us to think about our own experiences in the pandemic. Whether it be through the naïve innocence of a child or undergoing pandemic-related relationship troubles, Darley does not hide how such a significant change affected us all. 

Despite a lot of the heaviness found in the themes and ideas, there is a glimmer of hope that filters through the fog of insecurities. There isn’t a complete, hard ending to each story, but a continuation into something new and vibrant. The ambiguity illustrated in many endings shows how hardships can be overcome and pushes characters into a new tomorrow. Once again, reflecting the everyday. This creates empowering tales that can be revisited over and over.

In this new collection of short stories, Judy Darley captures the struggles that have persisted over the past few years. Whether it be in the deterioration of relationships, or the budding hope found in the everyday, Darley’s collection is brought to life with her dexterous and beautiful writing.

Get the book here.

Osob Warsame is completing an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She is working on her first major project as a narrative designer for the upcoming game, Westmark Legacy. Her other interests range from short story writing to poetry. She tweets as @osob_w

31 March 2022