In 1960s Sydney, James Brailey (if that is his real name; it’s never confirmed) and his partner Trudy attempt to trick or bribe their way into a penthouse cabin on board the SS Oriana, so they can live out their fantasy of luxury for a short while, before the liner leaves port. I say ‘their’ fantasy, but it’s really Trudy’s; James has gone along with her dream because he loves her, even though he knows they can’t really afford the money they’re using as a bribe.

This is what M.J. Hyland does particularly well in ‘Rag Love’: to show that this act of apparently throwing cares to the wind masks a relationship under strain. James has doubts about Trudy’s feelings for him (“I was certain she’d want the money and the ocean cruise no matter what bloke she was with”), and Trudy seems to have little concern for anything beyond her immediate dream. That then sets up a tension over not only whether the couple’s plan will succeed, but also what will happen to their relationship with each other. I’m not sure that Hyland’s piece quite has the extra spark I’d hope to see from a story on an award shortlist, but it’s a good read nonetheless.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.