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Short Story Series: Part Five

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like. I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections. Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb. I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
‘A classic of alienation and horror, ‘The Birds’ was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man’s sense of dominance over the natural world. The mountain paradise of ‘Monte Verita’ promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject’s life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three’s a crowd …’

2. Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
‘Tenderly, observantly, incisively, Edith Pearlman captures life on the page like few other writers. She is a master of the short story, and this is a spectacular collection.’

3. Lying Under the Apple Tree by Alice Munro
‘Spanning her last five collections and bringing together her finest work from the past fifteen years, this new selection of Alice Munro’s stories infuses everyday lives with a wealth of nuance and insight. Beautifully observed and remarkably crafted, written with emotion and empathy, these stories are nothing short of perfection. It is a masterclass in the genre, from an author who deservedly lays claim to being one of the major fiction writers of our time.’

My review can be found here.

4. Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
‘”Delicate Edible Birds” includes nine stories of vastly different styles and structures. “L. De Bard and Aliette” recreates the tale of Abelard and Heloise in New York during the 1918 flu epidemic; “Lucky Chow Fun” returns to Templeton, the setting of Groff’s debut novel, for a contemporary account of what happens to outsiders in a small, insular town; the title story of “Delicate Edible Birds” is a harrowing, powerfully moving drama about a group of war correspondents, a lone woman among them, who fall prey to a frightening man in the French countryside while fleeing the Nazis. With a dazzling array of voices and settings, “Delicate Edible Birds” will cement Lauren Groff’s reputation as one of the foremost talents of her generation.’

5. Under a Glass Bell by Anais Nin
‘”Under a Glass Bell” is one of Nin’s finest collections of stories. First published in 1944, it attracted the attention of Edmond Wilson, who reviewed the collection in “The New Yorker.” It was in these stories that Nin’s artistic and emotional vision took shape. This edition includes a highly informative and insightful foreword by Gunther Stuhlmann that places the collection in its historical context as well as illuminates the sequence of events and persons recorded in the diary that served as its inspiration.’

6. Selected Short Stories by Virginia Woolf
‘Virginia Woolf tested the boundaries of fiction in these short stories, developing a new language of sensation, feeling and thought, and recreating in words the ‘swarm and confusion of life’. Defying categorization, the stories range from the more traditional narrative style of “Solid Objects” through the fragile impressionism of “Kew Gardens” to the abstract exploration of consciousness in “The Mark on the Wall”.’

7. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
‘What is the real world? Does it exist, or is it merely a means of keeping another reality at bay? Not the End of the World is Kate Atkinson’s first collection of short stories. Playful and profound, they explore the world we think we know whilst offering a vision of another world which lurks just beneath the surface of our consciousness, a world where the myths we have banished from our lives are startlingly present and where imagination has the power to transform reality. From Charlene and Trudi, obsessively making lists while bombs explode softly in the streets outside, to gormless Eddie, maniacal cataloguer of fish, and Meredith Zane who may just have discovered the secret to eternal life, each of these stories shows that when the worlds of material existence and imagination collide, anything is possible.’

8. Selected Short Stories by Honore de Balzac
‘One of the greatest French novelists, Balzac was also an accomplished writer of shorter fiction. This volume includes twelve of his finest short stories many of which feature characters from his epic series of novels the Comedie Humaine. Compelling tales of acute social and psychological insight, they fully demonstrate the mastery of suspense and revelation that were the hallmarks of Balzac’s genius. In The Atheist’s Mass, we learn the true reason for a distinguished atheist surgeon’s attendance at religious services; La Grande Breteche describes the horrific truth behind the locked doors of a decaying country mansion, while The Red Inn relates a brutal tale of murder and betrayal. A fascinating counterpoint to the renowned novels, all the stories collected here stand by themselves as mesmerizing works by one of the finest writers of nineteenth-century France.’

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Flash Reviews (24th April 2014)

‘Sarrasine’ by Honore de Balzac (Hesperus Press)

Sarrasine by Honore de Balzac ***
This is another lovely Hesperus Press edition which I found in my local library.  I don’t recall having read any Balzac before, aside from a couple of his short stories.  I really liked the premise of the title tale, which was first published in 1830:

‘At a fashionable party in Paris, an appalled young lady hears the story of a mysterious figure that haunts the elegant de Lanty household…’

This volume also contains another of Balzac’s short stories, an ‘orientalist fable’ entitled ‘A Passion in the Desert’.  Kate Pullinger, the author of the foreword, writes that ‘the two stories here… are very different from the work for which Balzac is revered…  Both stories are lush and over-ripe, heavily scented and hugely sensual, and in both tales true love is ultimately – murderously – thwarted’.  An accompanying introduction has been penned by David Carter, which is most informative with regard to how Balzac’s work has been both translated and interpreted.

Sarrasine uses the first person perspective throughout.  From the start it is vivid, and its descriptions are lyrical and lovely.  The entire piece is beautifully written.  Balzac describes his protagonists in such lively terms that it would not feel unusual if they were to step from the very page.  The story, too, is an intelligent one – there are many references to philosophy, literature, and historical figures and events – and it is also most peculiar.  It reminded me at turns of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Operaas it had a similar feel to it, along with shared elements of the plot.  Oddly, I did not enjoy the title story quite as much as I thought I would, and ‘A Passion in the Desert’ felt a little disappointing too.  Despite this, Balzac’s descriptions are so lovely that I cannot contemplate giving the book anything less than three stars.

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Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell ***

An illustration from ‘Ottoline and the Yellow Cat’ by Chris Riddell

I hadn’t planned to check this book out from the library, but it looked so utterly adorable that I couldn’t resist.  The book itself is a thing of beauty, with its dark red covers and delightful illustrations, all of which have been drawn by the author.  I wasn’t sure before I began to read where this book came in terms of the Ottoline series, but rather luckily, I managed to pick up the first.  I had high hopes that I would really enjoy it and could then consequently borrow them all.

Ottoline Brown, our child protagonist, lives in Big City, on the twenty fourth floor of the Pepperpot Building.  She likes solving crime and ‘working out clever plans even more than she liked splashing in puddles’.  She is such a likeable little thing, though from an adult perspective, I did find it weird that she lives solely with an indeterminate hairy creature named Mr Munroe, who supposedly came from a bog somewhere in Norway.  She is an only child, and her parents are invariably travelling to far-flung locations to collect odd things, like four-spouted teapots and portable fishbowls.  As you do. Ottoline is left with just Mr Munroe and many tradespeople for company.

In Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, ‘a string of daring burglaries have taken place in Big City and precious lapdogs are disappearing all over town.  Something must be done.’  Whilst the storyline itself wasn’t overly captivating for a non-dog lover, the format, with its illustrations on every single page, was darling, and I will certainly be reading more of the books which feature little Ottoline in future.

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‘Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns’ by Lauren Weisberger (Harper)

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger ***
I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada book when I read it in my teens, and I also very much liked its subsequent film.  I had a feeling that I would be rather disappointed with its sequel, Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns, but I couldn’t resist checking it out of the library.  It is meant to occur ten years after The Devil Wears Prada, when protagonist Andy is running her own magazine and is about to get married.  At first glance, the premise works quite well:

‘… the night before her wedding, she can’t sleep.  Is it just normal nerves, or is she having serious second thoughts?  And why can’t she stop thinking about her ex-boss, Miranda – aka, the Devil?  It seems that Andy’s efforts to build herself a bright new life have led her directly into the path of the Devil herself, bent on revenge…’

Now, it is worth mentioning that whilst the title of this book is ‘The Devil Returns’, the aforementioned Miranda Priestley actually doesn’t appear in the novel very often.  When she does, her behaviour does not really follow what I remember of her from the first book either.  The story was rather easy to get into from the start, and although it was quite superficial and shallow throughout, as I expected it to be, it was definitely entertaining.  It is not the most literary of books, but as an easy, comforting read, it is relatively good.  Well, it is for the first half of the novel or so, anyway.

I remembered The Devil Wears Prada as a far more funny and amusing novel.  It also seemed to have been far more cleverly crafted than Revenge Wears Prada is.  I found the sequel a little too long, particularly when the second half was reached.  It wasn’t as engaging in terms of the storyline, and it almost felt a bit of a slog to get through.  When the first and second halves of the book are considered together, it is difficult to see that they are part of the same novel.  It is as though Weisberger has tacked together two rather different manuscripts, and it does not quite work.  It becomes a bit soulless, really, and to say that it is unlikely in terms of its plot and character development is an understatement.  It is rather predictable; one cannot help but feel that Weisberger penned the sequel just for the sake of doing so, rather than to add anything to Andy’s story.  Her male characters are far too gushing to be believed, and nothing new or surprising is brought to the table.  I feel that overall, I’m being rather generous with my three star rating, as it is really more of a two and a half star read.

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