When breaks go bad: why a holiday is the perfect setting for a fictional emotional crisis

The anxious mother, the doomed cruise, the angry swarm of jellyfish … all rich pickings for novelists and short story writers

Often, even now, with twenty-four days of the cruise behind her and only twenty more to be lived through, the fears she had experienced the first evening would recur: She was at sea, alone. There was no one around to tip stewards, order drinks, plan the nights, make love to her, pay the bills, tell her where she was and what it was all about. How had this happened?”

Even on terra firma, on a far shorter trip, or in the midst of a crowd of jolly steward-tippers, we’ve probably all experienced some of the feelings that strike Mrs Ellenger, one of the two central characters in Mavis Gallant’s 1954 story “Going Ashore”. Having a far worse time is the other, Mrs Ellenger’s daughter, Emma, who must cope with ...