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And Other Stories: ‘The Persephone Book of Short Stories’ *****

First published in October 2012

‘The Persephone Book of Short Stories’

To celebrate Persephone Books’ one hundredth publication, the publishing house have issued a new volume of short stories, all of which have been written by female authors between 1909 and 1986.

Of the included stories, ten are taken from volumes already published by Persephone, ten have been previously featured in their Biannually Magazine, and ten have been ‘selected especially for this collection’. Each tale is ‘presented in the order they are known, or assumed, to have been written’, and the year has been printed after the title and author of every story, which is a rather useful touch. In fact, the entire volume has been very well laid out, with an accessible author biographies section and a well-spaced contents page.

The collection is a wonderfully varied one and features authors from all walks of life. There are many British and American authors, as well as others from further afield – New Zealand-born Katherine Mansfield, Pauline Smith, who spent her childhood in South Africa, Irene Nemirovsky who grew up in Kiev and spent many years in Paris, and Frances Towers, who was born in Calcutta. The Persephone Book of Short Stories begins with Susan Glaspell’s 1909 story ‘From A to Z’ and finishes with Georgina Hammick’s 1986 offering, entitled ‘A Few Problems in the Day Case Unit’.

The stories woven into the collection are as varied as the authors who wrote them. They encompass every aspect of life in their perfectly crafted portraits. There are first jobs, first loves, marriages, affairs, illnesses and death, and these are merely the more obvious themes which float upon the surface.

The protagonist in the beautifully written vignette ‘From A to Z’ by Susan Glaspell is a young girl named Edna Willard, who spent her senior university year ‘hugging to her mind that idea of getting a position in a publishing house’, and is then discontent when this dream is realised. In Pauline Smith’s tale ‘The Pain’, we meet a South African couple who have been married for fifty years, brave in the face of the wife Deltje’s illness. Smith describes the way in which Deltje has ‘a quiet, never-failing cheerfulness of spirit in spite of her pain’, and the story is beautifully and sensitively realised. In E.M. Delafield’s ‘Holiday Group’, we meet a kindly and rather patient reverend, who struggles to take his young and rather demanding family – his wife Julia ‘had gone on being blissfully irresponsible until she was quite grown up’ and has a particularly selfish streak – to the seaside.

Some of the authors in The Persephone Book of Short Stories are more well-known than others, but all share common ground in the way in which they all deserve to be read on a wider scale than they currently are. The balance of longer and shorter stories works incredibly well, as do the differing narrative styles, which range from the third person omniscient perspective to interesting streams of consciousness. Hopefully, this lovely volume of short stories will inspire readers to seek out other novels and short story collections by the authors which they enjoy in this collection. Each story in The Persephone Book of Short Stories is like a small but perfectly formed work of art, and the book is sure to delight a wealth of readers.

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Flash Reviews: ‘Ox Crimes’, ‘Black Eyed Susans’, and ‘Vinegar Girl’

Time for three more mini reviews!

Ox Crimes by Various Authors *** 9781781250648
I purchased Ox Crimes whilst seeking out my Scorching Summer Reads pile because it sounded wonderful. I love the idea behind it; twenty seven crime writers donating a story apiece to Oxfam. As with the majority of anthologies, there were a few stories which didn’t really interest me – the more hardboiled detective ones in this case – but on a high note, I have also (finally) discovered Stella Duffy.

I very much enjoyed how quirky a lot of these stories were; there were unusual elements to them for the most part, and not one could be termed run-of-the-mill. A mixed bag of crime stories, let’s face it, but literature for a good cause is always worth buying.

 

9781405921275Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin ***
I have been trying to read more thrillers of late, and Black Eyed Susans has undoubtedly been hyped. Whilst travelling to my early morning lectures, I must have seen a dozen posters with that eye-catching field of flowers, featuring the slightly ambiguous naked woman, dotted around the underground.

My thoughts about the novel are a mixed bag, as I had a feeling they might be. The storyline is intriguing; it has elements of the general thriller, but there are a few twists to it in places that I wasn’t quite expecting. Heaberlin’s writing didn’t blow me away, but the pacing was strong. The merging of past and present stories worked well, but the tenses were undoubtedly confused at times (and I say this as a proofreader). Black Eyed Susans felt, to me, rather drawn out in places, and whilst it kept me entertained, I don’t think I’d rush to pick up another of Heaberlin’s novels.

 

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler * 9781781090190
This had so much potential. WHY WAS IT SO DULL!?

I love Shakespeare. I love The Taming of the Shrew. I love the Hogarth Shakespeare series. I greatly admire what the authors have done. I had hoped that this would suck me in as Jeannette Winterson’s book did, but alas. There are nowhere near enough echoes of the original here; if you were not aware that this was a rewriting of Shakespeare, I’m not entirely sure you’d be able to guess.

I’ve not had the best experience with Anne Tyler’s novels in the past; I have begun three, and abandoned three. I think I’m going to give her up as a bad job. Thoroughly disappointing, and hopefully not a precursor of the rest of the series!

 

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Flash Reviews (8th October 2013)

40 (Canongate) by Various Authors **
2013 has marked the fortieth anniversary of several publishing houses, two of whom have already released celebratory volumes (Picador and Virago).  Within the responses to the theme of ‘forty’ in this volume, there are fragments of memories, lists, illustrations, poems, reminiscences of fortieth birthdays, and even a couple of comic strips and a recipe.  There is also rather a nice section which includes the first lines of the forty bestselling Canongate books of all time.  Some of the authors are familiar (Charles Schulz, Margaret Drabble, Margaret Atwood), and some are not.  <i>40</i> is an interesting amalgamation of forty inspired art, but sadly there is nothing very outstanding within it.

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green ****
I feel, after finishing this absorbing murder mystery, that I should have read it some time ago.  This is the first of Green’s books which I’ve encountered in my foray into crime fiction, and I found it a very enjoyable book on the whole.  The writing throughout matches the unfolding storyline perfectly.  Although it is not original to the modern reader, per se, the mystery itself and the way in which it has been carried out was, I imagine, relatively ‘never before seen’ to its original Victorian audience.  The plotlines which carry less emphasis combine wonderfully to produce the coherent whole, and everything is neatly tied together.  The story kept me guessing throughout, which is a must to me with such novels.

The Four-Chambered Heart by Anais Nin ***
I am always so excited when I receive or buy a new Nin novel, enamoured as I am with her stunning writing and often quiet but memorable plots. The Four-Chambered Heart, particularly in its beginning, is a beautifully written novel, particularly with regard to its Paris setting. Nin captures her characters so well. Whilst none of the protagonists – Djuna, Rango and Zora – are likeable for the mostpart, they have a marvellous depth to them, and are made up of a complex mixture of emotions. Their relationship with one another, tumultuous as it often is, is portrayed with such clarity on the part of the author.

Sadly, The Four-Chambered Heart is by no means my favourite of Nin’s books, and it pales entirely in comparison to Collages and Under a Glass Bell, which are both incredible works of art. I very much enjoyed the writing, but as I was in no way sympathetic towards the novel’s characters and did not find much of worth in its plot, I feel I cannot award it more than three stars.

Recommended playlist:
‘The Everglow’ by Mae
‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths
‘Think I Wanna Die’ by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin