This cracker of a story appears in A Kind of Compass, a new anthology of “stories on distance” edited by Belinda McKeon and published by Dublin-based Tramp Press. ‘The Unintended’ begins with Magsalin, a translator and mystery writer from the Philippines, pondering her task:

For the mystery writer, it is not enough to mourn the dead. One must also study the exit wounds, invite the coroner to tea, cloud the mind with ulterior motives, typically in triplicate. In addition, pay credit card bills for the grieving, if such bills are extant.

(I was sold on the story from that opening paragraph, to be honest.)

We then move outwards: in the past, Virginie falls for a filmmaker named Luca Brasi, and they have a dream romance, at least to begin with. In the present, the Brasis’ daughter Chiara has hired Magsalin to be her translator as she, like her father, makes a film about the Philippine-American war (though for Chiara this seems to be as much a quest to find out what made her marriage fall apart). Along the way, Magasalin has cause to observe the many strata of distance between photographs of war and its reality:

there is the eye of the victim, the captured,

who may in turn be belligerent, bystander, blameless, blamed – at the very least here, too, there are subtle shifts in pathetic balance;

there is the eye of the colonised viewing their captured history in the distance created by time;

there is the eye of the captor, the soldier, who has just wounded the captured;

And so it continues, layer on layer.

There are other types of distance in ‘The Unintended’: between Chiara and her parents; between the beginning and end of her parents’ relationship; between Magsalin and Chiara – and between reader and event, because all we have in the end is a broken-up narrative filtered through the viewpoint (perhaps even in part written by) Magsalin. Distance all the way down.

One thing I do know: I need to read more of Gina Apostol’s work.

Book details (Foyles affiliate link)

A Kind of Compass (2015), ed. Belinda McKeon, Tramp Press paperback