The Doll’s House and Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner
I hadn’t even known of the existence of these newly discovered tales before I spotted them quite by chance whilst searching for Virago books on the Kindle store. I so enjoyed Lolly Willowes which I read earlier this year that I couldn’t pass up the chance of purchasing the collection and then starting it almost immediately. What I was greeted with was a short book, but an incredibly good one in terms of the quality of its tales. I love Townsend Warner’s writing, and she strikes a perfect balance between loveliness and expertly building up an atmosphere. The lasting quality of these stories and the way they linger in the mind is marvellous. My favourites were ‘The Doll’s House’ and ‘Haig’.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from this novel, but I know that it is much loved and well respected in the literary world. I had read one of Winterson’s books previous to this (The Passion, a quirky book which I very much enjoyed), and when I spotted it on a crammed shelf in Black Gull Books in Camden, I added it to the (surprisingly) small pile which I was carrying. The blurb utterly intrigued me. I found the story incredibly absorbing, and the child narrator Jeanette makes it even more so. Aspects of the novel were so very sad – for example, Jeanette’s lack of friends, and her classmates and teachers shunning her at school for being so religious – but it was also so witty and amusing. The balance between the two was expertly done. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is an incredibly powerful and unexpected novel. At one point, it felt as though my heart had been ripped out and stamped over, due to the power of just one sentence.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories by Carson McCullers
I adore McCullers’ writing, and after reading the beautiful The Heart is a Lonely Hunter earlier this year, I vowed to work my way through her books sooner rather than later. Whilst the main story in this collection was a relatively interesting one, I do not feel that it or its themes had been quite developed enough. The characters were not realistic on the whole, and I felt that some of their actions did not at all match McCullers’ initial descriptions of their characters. I feel as though the length of this story and the mere fact that it was a novella worked against it from the first. Nothing was quite developed enough. My favourite part of the story was the stifling and oppressive small town atmosphere which was built up. After having relatively mixed feelings about The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, I began the short stories with some trepidation. I was interested to see how McCullers would tackle the often restrictive genre of the short story. I was beginning to think that these tales were all rather commonplace, and then I reached ‘A Domestic Dilemma’, which proved to be one of the most powerful short stories I’ve read in a long while. In it, McCullers builds up the atmosphere perfectly, and the musings which the protagonist provides about memory are subtly written and very well woven together.
Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson
Yes, I suppose that I am too old to be reading Jacqueline Wilson’s books, but they were such a big part of my
childhood that I still look out for her new publications and will happily read them. With regard to the storyline in Candyfloss, it was not my favourite of Wilson’s creations, but it tackles issues faced by a worrying amount of children – one parent deciding to move to Australia with her new partner and baby, and the other staying in England. Whilst the conversation seems a little outdated throughout, the story is sweet, and Floss is a nice little narrator for such a tale.
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
I so enjoyed the first book which I read in the Canongate Myths series (the glorious and inventive The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood), and I also so enjoy Smith’s writing in the other books of hers which I’ve read, that I jumped at the chance to read Girl Meets Boy. On the whole, the tale which she crafted was an imaginative one, and she used the foundations of her chosen myth very well indeed. Smith presented an interesting blend of modernity and antiquity here, and injected interesting musings on life, society, rights and morals too. I love the intertwined stories and the use of different narrative voices, all of which were distinct. The entirety of Girl Meets Boy is tied together so well, and is so intelligent in its tale and its telling.