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‘Things We Say in the Dark’ by Kirsty Logan ****

I am a big fan of Kirsty Logan’s prose; I love its mysterious quality, its beautifully dark and evocative imagery, and the wildness which exists within it.  I was so looking forward to picking up her newest collection of short stories, Things We Say in the Dark, and am pleased to say that it lived up to my very high expectations.

819ouwhj2b4lLogan has been compared, variously, to Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, and Jeanette Winterson.  I can see elements of their work echoed in hers, but Logan has something entirely her own.  Her narrative voice is taut, and her stories often feel wholly original.

The stories in Things We Say in the Dark are described as ranging from ‘chilling contemporary fairytales to disturbing contemporary fiction.’  The premise behind the collection is to examine fears.  The blurb comments: ‘Some things can’t be spoken about in the light of day.  But we can visit our fears at night, in the dark.  We can turn them over and weigh them in our hands and maybe that will protect us from them.  But maybe not.’  For Logan, the expansive night allows a kind of freedom difficult to hold onto during the daylight, but it also serves to make the more creepy elements stand out.  Logan has used quite typical tropes at times – abandoned buildings, a séance – but rather than becoming clichés, she makes them all her own.

Things We Say in the Dark has been split into three parts: ‘The House’, ‘The Child’, and ‘The Past’.  Each of the tales contained within the sections revolve around the central subject, but each is, on the whole, really quite different.  Before each, Logan has added a sort of continual narrative, which builds to a story of its own.

As is often the case in Logan’s fiction, there is such strange and compelling imagery threaded throughout the collection.  In ‘Last One to Leave Please Turn Off the Lights’, the narrator makes tiny houses out of parts of their body: ‘My ear-house got buried in the window box; my eye-house was squashed under your winter boots; my tongue-house was snatched by a neighbourhood fox.’  Mythology and fairytale-like imagery make themselves felt at times; at others, magical realism creeps in.  Logan makes the weirdest things feel entirely realistic; it is a real skill of hers.

Logan makes a series of profound observations in several of these stories, too.  In ‘Last One to Leave Please Turn Off the Lights’, for example, she writes: ‘When she thought of what she – and probably you – had learned at school, about the universe and its vastness, the infinity of it, the insignificant tininess of her within it, it made her sick and cold and dizzy.’  There is humour – most of it dark – here too.  In ‘My House is Out Where the Light Ends’, protagonist Jay ‘opens the door to the cellar, but she doesn’t go down the steps because she’s not a fucking moron.’

Logan excels at both short fiction and longer work.  This collection of dark tales is wholly immersive.  It looks, largely, at the lives of women and those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and in their entirety ‘speak to one another about female bodies, domestic claustrophobia, desire and violence.’  Things We Say in the Dark is filled to the brim with original ideas.  Each of Logan’s stories is unsettling; some are downright creepy.  They and sent quite delicious shivers down my own spine, and would be a chilling choice to read aloud.  Things We Say in the Dark is such a beguiling collection, and another excellent book in Logan’s canon.

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Reviews: ‘All We Shall Know’ and ‘The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales’

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan *** 9780857524379
‘Melody Shee is alone and in trouble. Her husband doesn’t take her news too well. She doesn’t want to tell her father yet because he’s a good man and this could break him. She’s trying to stay in the moment, but the future is looming – larger by the day – while the past won’t let her go. What she did to Breedie Flynn all those years ago still haunts her. It’s a good thing that she meets Mary Crothery when she does. Mary is a young Traveller woman, and she knows more about Melody than she lets on. She might just save Melody’s life. Donal Ryan’s new novel is breathtaking, vivid, moving and redemptive.’

All We Shall Know is another title which I requested from Netgalley, from an author I’ve heard a little about but have never read.  I tend not to read much Irish fiction, especially that which is encompassed by the broad title ‘contemporary’, but the premise intrigued me, and I thought I’d give it a go.  I started it just by chance to see what it was like, and found it immediately engrossing.  The whole is gritty, and the prose is startling at times.  The narrative voice was realistic in a refreshing way; you’ll know what I mean if you read this.  I had no real idea throughout about the direction which the story would take, and was quite surprised at the sheer scale of the emotional depth in such a slim novel.

The drawback for me was that the Irish dialect used throughout was rather overdone.  I see its necessity, sure, but phrasing was repeated rather a lot, and such inclusion put me off reading at points.  The sections of conversation which lasted past two or three exchanges felt a little jarring to read.  I did not feel as though the novel was quite sustained throughout; its beginning was compelling, but the rest of the book just didn’t quite match it.  An odd story, but an interesting one.

 

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan *** 9781907773754
I borrowed this from the Mitchell Library (which is, frankly, the most incredible bookish place I’ve ever visited).  Having read both The Gracekeepers and A Portable Shelter, I already knew that I really enjoy Logan’s writing; she is creative and inventive, qualities which are often difficult to achieve, particularly in the field of contemporary fiction.

As with a lot of the strong short story collections which I have come across, I did not adore every tale here, but I did admire them all, both in the strength of their writing, and the use of literary techniques.  Sadly, some of the stories felt a little rushed or unfinished, and several ended a little too abruptly for my liking.  A couple of the tales had so much scope, but I do not feel as though their potential was fully realised.

As far as ideas go, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is fresh, but it is not quite what I was expecting, I must admit.  A lot of mystery is embedded into the stories, and much of the time, it was nowhere near as well wrought as it could have been.  The whole was rather intriguing, but it does not quite match up to my favourite short story collections, as I thought it may have done when I began to read.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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A Creative Conversation with Kirsty Logan

I have something a little different, but still eminently literary, for you today!  At the University of Glasgow, we are lucky enough to have some excellent extracurricular talks organised for us by the English and Creative Writing departments.  These are arranged under the umbrella heading of ‘Creative Conversations’, and take place every Monday lunchtime.  Yesterday marked the first of these, and what better guest could the University have selected but Creative Writing alumna Kirsty Logan?

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I wasn’t quite quick enough to snap a good photo whilst Kirsty was talking, so here’s a lovely picture I borrowed from her website (www.kirstylogan.com)

I am quite a fan of Logan’s work, and have been for rather a long time now (you can read my gushing review of The Gracekeepers here).  Although yesterday’s crowd sadly didn’t quite fill the chapel in which the Conversations take place, the audience felt warm and receptive, and I can only hope that Logan felt the same about this.

Suitably Hallowe’en themed down to Logan’s skeleton-themed outfit, the hour-long talk began with a spellbinding reading of ‘The Keep’, and included a new and incredibly chilling story entitled ‘My Body Cannot Forget Your Body’.  The tales were interspersed with questions from the chair Rob Maslin, and members of the audience.  I came unprepared, I am sad to admit, and therefore didn’t volunteer myself to ask anything, but I very much enjoyed the breadth of the questions which were asked, and doubt I could have done much better myself.  They ranged from the inspiration which Logan found on her recent month-long trip to an Icelandic writers’ retreat, to the influence of her family members upon her writing; the short of it is that she does not tend to write about those she knows, as ‘everyone needs a secret which they can keep just to themselves’.

Logan discussed many things about her writing: perspective, and the use of the first and second person narrative voices (‘I quite like the reader to inhabit the story… so each has a different interpretation.  Anything’s right…  You should always give the reader space…  I quite like to speak to the reader… [and] use a direct address’); her preference of writing short stories with the use of a frame narrative; her hope to always be able to alternate between writing novels and short stories; her upcoming project (which will be set in a pseudo-Icelandic landscape); and her insistence that she doesn’t count herself as a novelist.  Rather, she inferred, she prefers to write a lot of short stories and link them together.  She is interested – as anyone who has read any of her work will know – in experimenting with the traditional form, and takes much inspiration from fairytales.  As an impatient reader herself, wanting the author to get straight into the action, she has always been inspired by the directness of fairytales and their power.  She also spoke at length about the timelessness of the fairytale form, and how we in the modern world can still relate to the tales; indeed, ‘The Keep’ is a retelling of ‘Bluebeard’.

In the pipeline for Logan are more books (both a short story collection and a novel), a visual arts project, and a couple of films.  She also expressed her longing to work on written video games.  She is currently attempting to write about things which scare her, prompted in part by the isolated writers’ retreat, in which she was left alone for great parts of the day away from her friends and family.  This led her to speak about her craft: ‘I can’t write when I’m happy.  When I write I need to be sad, or lonely, or grieving in some way’.  The writing side of her life is viewed by her almost as an alter ego; a ‘separate persona’ that she ‘vaguely’ knows.  This distinction is important for her: ‘Everything I write is so personal, but then as soon as it’s on the page, it isn’t you anymore’.

Eloquent and warm, Kirsty Logan is a marvellous speaker, with a wonderful reading voice, and full and thoughtful responses to everything asked of her.  The inaugural Creative Conversation of this season was wonderful, and hopefully paves the way for many more interesting and inspiring talks.  I shall leave the last word to Logan herself: ‘We can still find truth in stories’.

(Just FYI, Kirsty’s blog is a wonderful place to go to if you’re looking for something a little different to read.)

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‘The Gracekeepers’ by Kirsty Logan ****

Kirsty Logan is a Scottish author for whom I’ve been hearing so many things around the bookish internet lately. Her first novel, The Gracekeepers, was published last year in a beautiful hardcover edition and the paperback, which I own, came out a couple of months ago. Most of the reviews and opinions on this book and Logan’s storytelling abilities in general, which I had encountered prior to purchasing this book, were more than enthusiastic, so I was very much looking forward to reading this.

Paperback edition cover

I find it rather difficult to describe The Gracekeepers giving it the justice it deserves, but I will do my best. The story is set in a world where land is scarce and there are some people, called damplings, who spent all their lives on boats at sea and cannot fathom life on land. There is an array of different characters presented in the book, but the two main ones are Callanish, a girl who has undertaken the task of a gracekeeper (they take care of some birds which are used in funerals) and North, a girl who works and travels with a floating circus along with her bear. We follow their stories separately at first, and we get to know their characters and the circumstances surrounding them.

North’s circus consists of many other characters such as Jarrow or Red Gold, the circus master, Avalon, his wife who dislikes the circus and longs for a quiet life on land, Ainsel, Jarrow’s son, as well as many other acrobats, clowns and so on. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character (but it’s still a third-person narration), with more emphasis given on Callanish and North. I found this constant change of perspective quite confusing and unnecessary at first, since some chapters present the point of view of very minor characters, but some important information was given to the reader through these perspectives, since lies and deception are dominant characteristics of most characters in this novel, to the point where it became very hard to distinguish the truth.

As far as the plot is concerned, I found it very intriguing and unique and it certainly kept my interest piqued until the very last page. The story was filled with twists and certain turn of events were more than surprising. Logan’s writing was beautiful and lyrical throughout the novel and she definitely managed to create a whimsical and heart-breaking tale. What stood out the most for me, though, apart from the beautiful language, were the characters. She managed to craft such complicated and multifaceted characters, who could easily reflect any people from our lives. Especially Avalon, was one of those characters who I immediately disliked and whose actions only added more reasons for me to feel that way towards her. However, through the different perspectives, I had the opportunity to learn more about her motives and reasons why she acted the way she did, and even though I still disliked her, I felt like she had a solid background and wasn’t merely unnecessarily mean.

The only thing which prevented me from giving this book five stars was the ending. Well, perhaps not the ending itself, but rather some of the subplots which were left hanging and unwrapped up, with only some indications provided as to what may happen. Nevertheless, this was a book I wholeheartedly enjoyed and, being the very first book I read in June, I felt like it was the ideal book to start my summer with. I’m more than looking forward to devouring more of Kirsty Logan’s writing now.

Have you read The Gracekeepers or any other book by Kirsty Logan? I’d love to hear your opinions 🙂

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The ‘(Literary) People I Would Like to Meet’ Tag

It’s time to make a post after such a long time being absent from the blog. I really thank my lovely bookish friend Eleni at Over The Place for creating this tag and tagging me to do it, too 🙂 So, without further ado, here are some of the (literary) people I would like to meet:

1. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer

Two of my favourite people in the world. I love Neil Gaiman’s stories and immense talent and Amanda is such a sweet person and a musician that can truly articulate your deepest feelings and thoughts. They are both such fascinating individuals that it’s only natural for them to occupy a high place in my list of people I’d like to meet.

2. Margaret Atwood

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Now, I have technically seen Margaret Atwood up close when I attended a lecture she gave as a guest in the University of Athens in Greece (I had made a post about it which you can find here if you’re interested), but I didn’t have the opportunity to actually talk to her. Having both studied her work at Uni and read it out of personal interest, I can very positively say that she’s one of my favourite contemporary writers. Her writing is witty, as sharp as it should be and definitely engaging. She may look like one’s grandma, but she’s so much more than that.

3. David Crystal

David Crystal is one of my favourite linguists. I had read his book A Little Book of Language when I first entered uni and had started picking an interest on linguistics and issues surrounding language. The way he writes about language oozes with his passion for it, and therefore, he successfully manages to transfer some of this passion to his readers. He had actually come to Greece for a lecture, but I found out about it too late and couldn’t attend. He’s a person I really admire and I’d love to have the opportunity to meet him some time.

4. Enid Blyton

She’s my most cherished childhood author. I devoured her books as soon as I got my hands on them and I always craved for more. She kicked off my childish imagination like no other author had done before and her books were the beginning of my fascination with mystery novels. I know that meeting her now is impossible, but she will always have a special place in my heart.

5. Ogawa Yoko

Everyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my adoration for Japanese literature. Ogawa Yoko is one of the most interesting Japanese writers I have encountered so far. I haven’t read all of her books yet, but I admire how versatile she can be.

6. Kirsty Logan

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I usually have no opinion on authors I haven’t read myself, but after watching an interview of Kirsty Logan’s by the wonderful Choncey and after reading tons of loving comments and reviews about her latest book, The Gracekeepers, I’m definitely intrigued by her personality and creative spirit. She seems such a lovely lady and I would definitely love to sit with her for a cup of tea and talk about books and magic worlds.

There were many other people I considered adding to this list, and many others I haven’t really thought of yet. I tried to limit myself to currently living people for quite obvious reasons, but I couldn’t prevent myself from adding Enid Blyton – I hope you understand.

I now tag dublinbookworm, Cathy @ 746books, Aman and whoever else wants to do it of course! You can also leave a comment and tell me about the people you would like to meet there 🙂 I’d love to see your responses!