By Susan Hill
When Adrian and Paula move to a cottage in the countryside, they don’t know what to expect. At first, Adrian finds their new life idyllic, and insists on lots of long walks and fresh air, while Paula finds rural life lonely and dull.
Then some small and oddly silent children start showing up — in the woods, the garden, and eventually inside the house itself. Their presence proves disturbing to Adrian, who is having second thoughts about the move they’ve made. It’s Paula now who seems more at home with country life, and Paula who starts to take a peculiar comfort from the mysterious new arrivals.
Hunger is a haunting account of a marriage unsettled by a move — from a master of psychological suspense.
So, the above summary from Goodreads basically tells a distilled version of Hunger, a short story from Susan Hill. This Kindle Single was recommended to me by the algorithm that is Amazon and I took a chance.
At first blush, the story is what it is. A couple moves to the countryside. He seems excited, she less so. He doesn’t mind the extended commute and she’ll get to work from home. They stumble across children playing in the woods: he finds their games charming, she wonders why they aren’t in school.
As the days go on, the luster of the countryside is only available to Adrian on the weekends as he arrives home too late after work. This is fine until it isn’t. It doesn’t help that his mother comes for a visit and sees her exhausted son, immediately deciding the move was a bad idea.
Funny thing is the move was Adrian’s idea. While we have only Paula’s perspective, her recollection is Adrian’s excitement and her willingness for move, most likely for lack of a better idea.
Over time, Paula falls in love with the home and the countryside and the children who keep appearing. She works in the morning and naps in the afternoon. She takes walks and dabbles in the backyard. Her interest is piqued by the children who appear only to steal food from the bird and squirrel feeders and then from her kitchen.
The strange, dirty children beguile Paula. They could be wood nymphs who appear at their whim. But even Paula can see they are undernourished gypsies. An attempt to help by finding their caravan ends disastrously – Paula and Adrian’s home is trashed while they are out and the caravan disappears. Adrian has never liked his wife’s interest in the children and his own amusement with them fades as his amusement with his new home in the country fades.
Paula loves the home, the woods, the huge swaths of time alone. Adrian hates the commute, the lack of anything nearby and the gypsies breaking into their home. They reach an impasse.
Hunger is a charming tale of a slowly unfolding flower. Paula seems fuzzy around the edges at the beginning, like one of her illustrations in its infancy. She comes into focus as she digs into the landscape around her. As she appears, Adrian recedes. He is a force who drags Paula on walks and looks up at the sky to merely sigh. His lengthy time away makes his time in the house like that of a ghost, curious and difficult to discern.
Sometimes we think we know what we want and pursue it relentlessly only to realize it is so not what we want. Other times, we allow ourselves to drift along and suddenly find ourselves moored to a place with love. Susan Hill has written a lovely story about the ways we discover who we are and how we want to live.