This is a short story, or more correctly a fragment of a forthcoming novel. I read it in Granta, a British magazine of new writing which is always interesting.

This piece is about a woman, called Cheryl, and what sounds like a pretty unhappy life but one which she gets through with the support of a range of beliefs that people of a more prosaic and sober frame of mind would call ‘kooky’ or ‘New Age-y’. Beneath it all lies an undertow of sadness, as she tries to remain cheerful while being taken for a ride by cynical but vaguely charismatic bosses and their horrible, selfish daughter.

She provides the narrative voice but the writer makes it clear how she must seem to others, by her description of their reactions to her ill-judged but basically well-meaning activities.

We often like to believe we can empathise with others but find, in practice, that we can’t, because what they do or say is so hard for us to understand on our own terms, the terms we set for ourselves and live by. But understanding them in their terms, rather than ours, is only possible, if at all, if we suspend some or our essential beliefs temporarily and provisionally. But this is an imperfect basis for empathy, even if it is all we have available to us. Which is one of the limitations of humanity, I suppose.

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