On Some Short Stories by Romain Gary

L'Orage

Romain Gary was a Jewish-French novelist, film director, World War II aviator and diplomat. He also wrote under the pen name Émile Ajar. He’s the only author who won the Prix Goncourt twice. Once as Romain Gary for The Roots of Heaven (Les racines du ciel) and the second time as Emile Ajar for Life Before Us aka Madame Rosa (La Vie Devant Soi). 

Romain Gary would have been 100 years old on May 8. That’s why Emma has organized a Romain Gary Month on her blog Book Around the Corner. She’d announced it a while back and I knew I wanted to participate, only I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough time. The books that really interested me were a bit too long. So I did something you should not do when it comes to reading – I settled for a compromise. In this case it meant reading a collection of short stories, knowing well that they would never equal his novels.

It was still an interesting experience as the stories and fragments have been written between 1935 and 1970. Mostly they were written in French but two longer pieces were originally written in English. Gary wrote in both languages and also translated his own work. Or, as Emma wrote in one of her posts, he rewrote them in the other language. The collection shows not only the development of an author but also his wide range. Unfortunately most of the stories and fragments collected here are less than stellar. Notably the two early stories, written at the age of 20, whiff of epigonism.  Both L’Orage (1935) and Une petite femme ( 935) are set in the tropics and I found them to be examples of exoticism. I don’t think that Gary had been in any of the places described at that time. It seems both stories are influenced by Malraux. I was also reminded of Conrad. While I found that exoticism dubious, I liked the way they were told. At this early age, Gary was already well aware how to tell a story. And while both endings are predictable, there’s still very good pacing and build-up.

The other stories written in French are far more original and poignant. Two of them are quite chilling. Géographie humaine (1943) and Sergent Gnama (1946) are inspired by Gary’s own experience as a pilot during WWII and his experience of colonial France. The first – Human Geography – tells the story of a few men reminiscing. Each place they mention equals someone being shot down, wounded or killed. Sergeant Gnama tells the story of an African boy who sings a French song although he can’t speak French. It’s seems he’s learned it from a man called Sergeant Gnama – a ghost in other words.

The Jaded (1970) and The Greek (1970) were the two pieces originally written in English. While The Greek is a fragment and a bit hard to get into, The Jaded is a great, pessimistic and sarcastic story. A man spends his final hours in a place eating burgers. Later he will be shot. He knows this because he’s ordered his own assassination. He thinks he has lost his interest in life but during these hours it seems to be reawakened. If you want to know whether or not he’ll die in the end, you’ll have to read the story.

While this collection wasn’t all that great, I’d like to recommend Gary because he’s a great novelist and for those who love biography, it’s worth reading about this chameleon of a man. David Bellos has written a Gary biography  Gary: A Tall Man that looks interesting. Here’s the blurb

Airman, war hero, immigrant, law student, diplomat, novelist and celebrity spouse, Romain Gary had several lives thrust upon him by the history of the twentieth century, but he also aspired to lead many more. He wrote more than two dozen books and a score of short stories under several different names in two languages, English and French, neither of which was his mother tongue. Gary had a gift for narrative that endeared him to ordinary readers, but won him little respect among critics far more intellectual than he could ever be. His varied and entertaining writing career tells a different story about the making of modern literary culture from the one we are accustomed to hearing. Born Roman Kacew in Vilna (now Lithuania) in 1914 and raised by only his mother after his father left them, Gary rose to become French Consul General in Los Angeles and the only man ever to win the Goncourt Prize twice.

 This biography follows the many threads that lead from Gary’s wartime adventures and early literary career to his years in Hollywood and his marriage to the actress Jean Seberg. It illuminates his works in all their incarnations, and culminates in the tale of his most brilliant deception: the fabrication of a complex identity for his most successful nom de plume, Émile Ajar.

In his new portrait of Gary, David Bellos brings biographical research together with literary and cultural analysis to make sense of the many lives of Romain Gary – a hero fit for our times, as well as his own.

I know that quite a few readers of this blog love memoir as much as I do. Gary’s memoir Promise at DawnLa promesse de l’aube is highly acclaimed. Vishy just reviewed it here.

If you’d like some more recommendations – Emma has posted many suggestions on her blog.

Melissa Banks: The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999)

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

I mistook The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing for superficial “chick lit”. At the time when it came out I wouldn’t have picked it up but a week ago I stumbled over a review which made me curious and when I saw that there were some dirt cheap used copies on amazon, I ordered one. I’m so glad I gave in. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this witty book. It’s funny and moving, sad and true, all at the same time. However, I would hesitate to call this a novel. It’s a series of short stories, mostly about the same character – Jane. Some of the stories, like the title story have been published by renowned magazines like Zoetrope. Two have been combined and made into a movie called Suburban Girl, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin. While reading the book I remembered I’ve seen this film. It’s not a must-see. Luckily the stories are much better.

When it came out a few critics wrote harsh reviews, saying Jane was no real character and the book contained nothing but witty one liners. I agree that the book contains a lot of witty repartee and quotable lines but I thought it was anything but flat.

The story I liked best is the first in the collection. It’s called Advanced Beginners. Jane is a very young girl still and love and dating are confusing. Emotions are confusing and she understands how difficult it is to put certain feelings into words. They are too delicate; talking about them could destroy them. The following quote, which I found online, will give you a taste of Bank’s style.

My brother’s first serious girlfriend was eight years older—twenty-eight to his twenty. Her name was Julia Cathcart, and Henry introduced her to us in early June. They drove from Manhattan down to our cottage in Loveladies, on the New Jersey shore. When his little convertible, his pet, pulled into the driveway, she was behind the wheel. My mother and I were watching from the kitchen window. I said, “He lets her drive his car.”

My brother and his girlfriend were dressed alike, baggy white shirts tucked into jeans, except she had a black cashmere sweater over her shoulders.

She had dark eyes, high cheekbones, and beautiful skin, pale, with high coloring in her cheeks like a child with a fever. Her hair was back in a loose ponytail, tied with a piece of lace, and she wore tiny pearl earrings.

I thought maybe she’d look older than Henry, but it was Henry who looked older than Henry. Standing there, he looked like a man. He’d grown a beard, for starters, and had on new wire-rim sunglasses that made him appear more like a bon vivant than a philosophy major between colleges. His hair was longer, and, not yet lightened by the sun, it was the reddish-brown color of an Irish setter.

He gave me a kiss on the cheek, as though he always had.

Then he roughed around with our Airedale, Atlas, while his girlfriend and mother shook hands. They were clasping fingertips, ladylike, smiling as though they were already fond of each other and just waiting for details to fill in why.

Julia turned to me and said, “You must be Janie.”

“Most people call me Jane now,” I said, making myself sound even younger.

“Jane,” she said, possibly in the manner of an adult trying to take a child seriously.

Henry unpacked the car and loaded himself up with everything they’d brought, little bags and big ones, a string tote, and a knapsack.

As he started up the driveway, his girlfriend said, “Do you have the wine, Hank?”

Whoever Hank was, he had it.

I also enjoyed the two stories which were made into a movie, My Old Man and The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine. The narrator is a young editor who dates an older, very famous editor who tries to hide his alcohol problem. It’s just as witty as the first story, but more bitter-sweet.

The title story pokes fun at all those self-help books that promise women will find Mr. Right if they only stick to certain rules. The narrator follows such a rule book and at first the result is funny but then it becomes tragic and she turns into a parody of herself.

I can’t help it but I like a book with quotable lines. I enjoyed most of the stories and to me it even felt like a novel because we see Jane at various stages of her dating life. When it came out it was compared to Bridget Jones but that doesn’t do it any justice. It’s totally different, because tone and voice are so different. Jane sounds mostly laconic. I’d also say The Girl’s Guide … is more literary style wise but with less social/cultural commentary. One should really not compare them. It just goes to show that Bridget Jones was the 90s Gone Girl.

Angela Carter Week 8 – 15 June 2014

ACW badge 2-2

I’ve been a fan of Angela Carter’s work since I discovered her as a teenager. She’s one of those rare writers and academics who are good at every genre they try. Novels, short stories, essays, plays, film scripts. And her prose is one of those I admire the most. I don’t know any other writer with such an astonishingly rich vocabulary, that is both exquisite and evocative.

I always wanted to host an Angela Carter Week but I was looking for the right moment and co-host. When I saw that Delia was planning on reading Carter’s fairy tale retellings The Bloody Chamber for Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge, I knew the moment had come. After all, Delia (Postcards from Asia) and I had hosted Dickens in December and it was great fun. Seeing that she was planning on reading Angela Carter was the final nudge I needed. Luckily, Delia was in and she designed two gorgeous badges.

Here are the details:

  • The event runs from June 8 – 15 2014.
  • You can read absolutely anything you like. One short story or essay, a book she has edited, a novel, a radio play. Anything goes. You could equally read books or essays about her.
  • You can choose any of the two badges for your posts or side bar.
  • You can join any time. As early as now, as late as June 15. If you’ve written a post, please leave a comment in the comment section.

Angela Carter was not only versatile but her writing proves how lucid, highly creative and intellectual she was.  And provocative. She didn’t shy away from any topic, – be it sexuality, pornography, violence, torture, schizophrenia  –  or from any trope. She had a very unique esthetic; motives and themes like the circus, cabaret, artificial people, toys and angels are recurring. But she was also interested in cultural change, gender and various movements. Some of her books are exploring the culture and philosophy of the 60s.

Here are a few books you can choose from, (including the blurbs). There are many, many more.

Novels

Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

I’ve read a lot of Angela Carter’s short stories and some of her novels. The novel I liked by far the most was the critically acclaimed Heroes and Villains.

A modern fable, a post-apocalyptic romance, a gothic horror story; Angela Carter’s genre-defying fantasia Heroes and Villains includes an introduction by Robert Coover in Penguin Modern Classics.

Sharp-eyed Marianne lives in a white tower made of steel and concrete with her father and the other Professors. Outside, where the land is thickly wooded and wild beasts roam, live the Barbarians, who raid and pillage in order to survive. Marianne is strictly forbidden to leave her civilized world but, fascinated by these savage outsiders, decides to escape. There, beyond the wire fences, she will discover a decaying paradise, encounter the tattooed Barbarian boy Jewel and go beyond the darkest limits of her imagination. Playful, sensuous, violent and gripping,Heroes and Villains is an ambiguous and deliriously rich blend of post-apocalyptic fiction, gothic fantasy, literary allusion and twisted romance.

Magic Toyshop

The Magic Toyshop

This crazy world whirled around her, men and women dwarfed by toys and puppets, where even the birds are mechanical and the few human figures went masked… She was in the night once again, and the doll was herself.’ Melanie walks in the midnight garden, wearing her mother’s wedding dress; naked she climbs the apple tree in the black of the moon. Omens of disaster, swiftly following, transport Melanie from rural comfort to London, to the Magic Toyshop. To the red-haired, dancing Finn, the gentle Francie, dumb Aunt Margaret and Uncle Phillip. Francie plays curious night music, Finn kisses fifteen-year-old Melanie in the mysterious ruins of the pleasure gardens. Brooding over all is Uncle Philip: Uncle Philip, with blank eyes the colour of wet newspaper, making puppets the size of men, and clockwork roses. He loves his magic puppets, but hates the love of man for woman, boy for girl, brother for sister…

Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus

Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

TheInfernalDesireMachinesOfDoctorHoffman

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

Desiderio, an employee of the city under a bizarre reality attack from Doctor Hoffman’s mysterious machines, has fallen in love with Albertina, the Doctor’s daughter. But Albertina, a beautiful woman made of glass, seems only to appear to him in his dreams. Meeting on his adventures a host of cannibals, centaurs and acrobats, Desiderio must battle against unreality and the warping of time and space to be with her, as the Doctor reduces Desiderio’s city to a chaotic state of emergency – one ridden with madness, crime and sexual excess.

A satirical tale of magic and sex, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman is a dazzling quest for truth, love and identity.

Several Perceptions

Several Perceptions

Centre stage in Angela Carter’s unruly tale of the Flower Power Generation is Joseph – a decadent, disorientated rebel without a cause. A self-styled nihilist whose girlfriend has abandoned him, Joseph has decided to give up existing. But his concerned friends and neighbours have other plans.

In an effort to join in the spirit of protest which motivates his contemporaries, Joseph frees a badger from the local zoo; sends a turd airmail to the President of the United States; falls in love with the mother of his best friend; and, accompanied by the strains of an old man’s violin, celebrates Christmas Eve in a bewildering state of sexual discovery. But has he found the Meaning of Life?

LOVE

Love

Love is Angela Carter’s fifth novel and was first published in 1971. With surgical precision it charts the destructive emotional war between a young woman, her husband and his disruptive brother as they move through a labyrinth of betrayal, alienation and lost connections. This revised edition has lost none of Angela Carter’s haunting power to evoke the ebb of the 1960s, and includes an afterword which describes the progress of the survivors into the anguish of middle age.

Short Stories

BLACK-VENUS

Black Venus

Extraordinary and diverse people inhabit this rich, ripe, occasionally raucous collection of short stories. Some are based on real people – Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s handsome and reluctant muse who never asked to be called the Black Venus, trapped in the terminal ennui of the poet’s passion, snatching at a little lifesaving respectability against all odds…Edgar Allen Poe, with his face of a actor, demonstrating in every thought and deed how right his friends were when they said ‘No man is safe who drinks before breakfast.’

And some of these people are totally imaginary. Such as the seventeenth century whore, transported to Virginia for thieving, who turns into a good woman in spite of herself among the Indians, who have nothing worth stealing. And a girl, suckled by wolves, strange and indifferent as nature, who will not tolerate returning to humanity.

Angela Carter wonderfully mingles history, fiction, invention, literary criticism, high drama and low comedy in a glorious collection of stories as full of contradictions and surprises as life itself.

American Ghosts

American Ghosts and New World Wonders

A collection of short stories which tear through the archives of cinema, of art and of the subconscious. A young Lizzie Borden visits the circus; a pianist makes a Faustian pact in a fly-blown Southern brothel; and a transfigured Mary Magdalene steps out of the canvases of Donatello and de la Tour.

The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber

From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

Books edited by Angela Carter

Book of Fairy Tales

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

Once upon a time fairy tales weren’t meant just for children, and neither is Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. This stunning collection contains lyrical tales, bloody tales and hilariously funny and ripely bawdy stories from countries all around the world- from the Arctic to Asia – and no dippy princesses or soppy fairies. Instead, we have pretty maids and old crones; crafty women and bad girls; enchantresses and midwives; rascal aunts and odd sisters.

This fabulous celebration of strong minds, low cunning, black arts and dirty tricks could only have been collected by the unique and much-missed Angela Carter. Illustrated throughout with original woodcuts.

Essays and Criticism

The Sadeian Woman

The Sadeian Woman

‘Sexuality is power’ – so says the Marquis de Sade, philosopher and pornographer extraordinaire. His virtuous Justine keeps to the rules laid down by men, her reward rape and humiliation; his Juliette, Justine’s triumphantly monstrous antithesis, viciously exploits her sexuality. In a world where all tenderness is false, all beds are minefields. But now Sade has met his match. With invention and genius, Angela Carter takes on these outrageous figments of his extreme imagination, and transforms them into symbols of our time – the Hollywood sex goddesses, mothers and daughters, pornography, even the sacred shrines of sex and marriage lie devastatingly exposed before our eyes. Angela Carter delves into the viscera of our distorted sexuality and reveals a dazzling vision of love which admits neither of conqueror nor of conquered.

Expletives

Expletives Deleted

Angela Carter was one of the most important and influential writers of our time: a novelist of extraordinary power and a searching critic and essayist.This selection of her writing, which she made herself, covers more than a decade of her thought and ranges over a diversity of subjects giving a true measure of the wide focus of her interests: the brothers Grimm; William Burroughs; food writing, Elizbaeth David; British writing: American writing; sexuality, from Josephine Baker to the history of the corset; and appreciations of the work of Joyce and Christina Stead.

Radio Plays and Scripts

The Curious Room

 The Curious Room

This one is only available in kindle format.

The Vintage Collected Edition of Angela Carter’s works continues with THE CURIOUS ROOM, which contains her dramatic writings, including several previously unpublished plays and screenplays. THE CURIOUS ROOM includes a radio play about the demented Victorian painter and parricide Richard Dadd; reworkings of Puss in Boots and the Dracula story; a draft for an opera of Virginia Woolf’s ORLANDO, as well as the film scripts of THE MAGIC TOYSHOP and THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. Revealing many of the enthusiasms and concerns which ignited Carter’s fiction. THE CURIOUS ROOM is full of magnificent and startling new material, charged with the range and power of Carter’s imagination and inventiveness.

Essays on Angela Carter

Flesh and Mirror

Flesh and the Mirror 

Go out and get Carter. Get all her fiction, all her fact.’ Ali Smith

 This distinguished volume of essays commemorates the work of Angela Carter. Here her fellow writers, along with an impressive company of critics, disuss the novels, stories and polemics that make her one of the most spellbinding authors of her generation. They trace out the signs of her originality, her daring and her wicked wit, as well as her charm, to produce an indispensable companion to her texts.

 Contributors are: Guido Almansi, Isobel Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, Elaine Jordan, Ros Kaveney, Hermione Lee, Laura Mulvey, Marc O’Day, Sue Roe, Susan Rubin Suleiman, Nicole Ward Jouve, Marina Warner and Kate Webb.

 

A list with more titles and further details can be found on Delia’s blog here.

I hope that you will join Delia and me in celebrating this unique writer.

I’m looking forward to rediscover a favourite writer. I might read her novel Love, a radio play and hopefully some short stories.

Will you join us? Which books or stories will you read?

Angela Carter Week

Ellen Gilchrist: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981)

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, Ellen Gilchrist’s acclaimed 1981 debut collection of short stories, introduced readers to a remarkable Southern voice which has sustained its power and influence through her more than 20 subsequent books. Gilchrist has a distinctive ear for language, and a deep understanding of her flawed, sometimes tragic characters. These fourteen stories, divided into three sections — There’s a Garden of Eden, Things Like the Truth, and Perils of the Nile — are about mostly young, upper-class Southern women who are bored with the Junior League and having babies, and chafe against the restrictions of their sheltered lives. Talented and bright, but living in the shadow of men — their husbands and fathers — they resort to outrageous actions in pursuit of freer lives and uncompromised love, despite the consequences. This collection first introduced readers to some of Gilchrist’s most beloved characters, such as Rhoda Manning and Nora Jane Whittington

I came across Ellen Gilchrist by chance. I was looking for books set in New Orleans and saw one of her short stories Rich in an anthology. I wasn’t familiar with her and looked her up and finally ordered a used copy of her first collection In the Land of Dreamy Dreams. It’s very rare that I read a whole short story collection in a few days, but I did in this case. There was a unity of setting, mood and atmosphere, and even one returning character that it read almost like a novel in stories.

Most of the stories are set in New Orleans, only a few take place in other places. The first or third person narrators are all women. Some are still small girls, many are teenagers, a few are grownups and some are elderly. About 50% of the stories are set in the 40s, the others in the 70s.

Hope and failure, perversion and innocence are some of the themes. The descriptions are rich and lush, the tone ranges from lyrical and  dreamy to bitter and sarcastic. Some of the stories have the atmosphere of a humid, stuffed boudoir, others exude an air of rich elegance.

In a few sentences Gilchrist can capture a whole life, including its tragedy and beauty. I liked the beautiful, hopeful stories, in which the protagonists were heading for a life full of intense and sensuous moments best. But I can’t deny that the more cruel stories like “Rich” – in which people get richer and richer and finally end in tragedy – or the stories Suicides and Indignities were powerful and even made me gasp.

To give you a taste – this is the beginning of Indignities

Last night my mother took off her clothes in front of twenty-six invited guests in the King’s Room at Antoine’s. She took off her Calvin Klein evening jacket and her beige silk wrap-around blouse and her custom-made  brassiere and walked around the table letting everyone look at the place where her breasts used to be.

She had them removed without saying a word to anyone. I’m surprised she told my father. I’m surprised she invited him to the party. He ever would have noticed. He hasn’t touched her in years except to hand her a cheque or a paper to sign.

My favourite stories were There’s a Garden of Eden in which a fortysomething woman and her young lover take a boat and navigate the flooded streets of New Orleans to get to her mother, 1944 in which a young girl meets a glamorous war widow who shows her to make the most of live. I also loved Traveler in which a plain girl travels to her beautiful cousin in the South. The cousin has just lost her mother who’s left her wardrobes and wardrobes full of expensive clothes, underwear, perfumes and make-up. The plain girl reinvents herself on this vacation and doesn’t want to return home. Summer, an Elegy is a story with a languorous mood, but it made me feel uncomfortable as it describes the love affair of two eight year-olds. It contains one of my favourite passages.

The afternoon went on for a log time, and the small bed was surrounded by yellow light and the room filled with the smell of mussels.

Long afterward, as she lay in a cool bed in Acapulco, waiting for her third husband to claim her as his bride, Matille would remember that light and how, later that afternoon, the wind picked up and could be heard for miles away, moving toward Issaquena County with its lines of distant thunder, and how the cottonwood leaves outside the window had beat upon the house all night with their exotic crackling.

I haven’t read anyone quite like Ellen Gilchrist but she still reminded me of a few authors. Tennesse Williams came to mind – A Streetcar Named Desire as much as The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone – because of the setting and some of the older characters. But she also reminded me of Julie Orringer whose intricately woven sentences and lush descriptions are similar and there’s some of Yoko Ogawa’s cruelty in this collection as well. Funny enough Ogawa’s last short story collection has the English title Revenge. One of Gilchrist’s best stories is called Revenge as well. Coincidence? Who knows.

If you like rish, complex short stories, full of allusions and sensual descriptions, sometimes mean, sometimes dreamy – then do yourself a favour and get a copy of this wonderful book.

Songs of Love & Death edited by George R.R.Martin and Gardner Dozois

Songs of Love and Death

It took me over a year to finish this anthology. No wonder, Songs of Love & Death is quite chunky, over 600 pages. The individual stories are all rather long, around 50 pages each. The subtitle of the book is All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love which is not entirely accurate as most stories have a happy ending.

While I didn’t like all of the stories equally, I liked that there were so many different genres or rather sub genres of fantasy and romance. Historical Romance, Sci-fi Romance, Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy. Most of the authors were new to me but there were also people like Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, Lisa Tuttle and Tanith Lee.

Many people bought this anthology for Diana Gabaldon’s story A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows. It’s a tale set in her Outlander series with characters who are important in the series or rather back story of some characters. I can’t say I liked it much. It’s the story of an RAF pilot on a mission to Poland. His plane crashes and he somehow lands in another time. He tries hard to get back to his wife and young son. I suppose that when you are familiar with the series that it’s an interesting story but when you are not it’s not very gripping.

That’s a problem of some of the other stories too. Many of the authors write series and the stories are set in those worlds. Reading just one small story about those worlds can be a bit confusing. Fortunately most writers submitted an original standalone story.

Each story comes with an introduction, naming the author’s genre and most important work. It’s certainly the first time that I have read sci-fi romance. It wasn’t my cup of tea but quite interesting.

These were my favourite stories:

Jim Butcher’s Love Hurts tells a tale of love sickness with an interesting twist.

Carrie Vaughn’s Rooftops is nothing special as story but the voice is charming and made me buy the first in her Kitty Norville series.

M.L.N. Hanover Hurt Me is a horror story dealing with abusive relationships. Really good.

Robin Hobb’s Blue Boots was just a very lovely love story set in pre-industrial England.

Neil Gaiman’s The Thing About Cassandra is typical Gaiman. So original. A story with a really stunning twist that shows that you have to be careful when you make things up.

Lisa Tuttle’s His Wolf was my favourite. It’s some sort of werewolf story but including a real wolf. The story as such is so realistic, the characters so well drawn, one forgets easily that it’s fantasy.

Peter S. Beagle’s Kaskia is a sic-fi story. Very eerie. Has the computer come alive or what is going on here?

Yasmine Galenorn is another writer I didn’t know. Her Man in the Mirror is a very unusual ghost/horror story of a man trapped between the worlds. It has a bittersweet ending.

I was quite disappointed in Tanith Lee’s story Under/Above the Water, and didn’t really understand Marjorie M. Liu’s dystopian vampire story After the Blood. Too bad, both stories are very well written.

With the exception of a few stories the anthology is much more romance than dark fantasy. If that is your thing, don’t miss it. But even if you prefer Dark Fantasy and Fantasy you will still find at least half a dozen really great stories. I guess what I liked most and what made this overall a really enjoyable experience was to discover so many new subgenres. That was really fun. A bit like eating a box of Quality Street.

Delia has reviewed this a while back here.

A warning for the George R.R.Martin fans – he is only the editor, he didn’t contribute to the collection.

Some Short Stories by Elizabeth Bowen – Mrs Windermere – The Demon Lover – A Day in the Dark

Bowen,_Elizabeth

In the foreword to her Elizabeth Bowen biography, Elizabeth Glendinning names what she thinks are Elizabeth Bowen’s best short stories:

The Disinherited

A Summer Night

Mysterious Kôr

The Happy Autumn Fields

Ivy Gripped the Steps

A Day in the Dark

 Mysterious Kôr is the first story I read by Bowen and it’s really an amazing story. I read and reviewed Summer Night last year. Unlike so many other short stories I’ve read over the course of a year it has stayed with me or, to be more precise, it’s atmosphere and imagery have stayed with me. The story is somewhat blurred by now. For this year’s Irish Short Story Month I decided to read three stories, each belonging to another chapter in the Collected Stories. Mrs Windermere is among the first stories. The Demon Lover is one of the wartime stories and A Day in the Dark is a post-war story.

When you read Bowen you will always find similarities in all of her stories whether she wrote them early in her career or later. The three stories I’ve read are very different but in each you will find lush atmospherical descriptions and a strong emphasis on emotions and mood. There is also an element of mystery in all three of them. A lot is only hinted at, remains a secret. A Day in the Dark, the most complex of these stories adds something new. It has a strong  metafictional element.

Mrs Windermere is the most playful of the three stories. The mystery lies in the character of Mrs Windermere, an elderly independent single woman who meets a young married woman in the streets. They spent some time together in Italy. The young woman is fascinated and intimidated by Mrs Windermere. Mrs Windermere seems to see through people, reads their lives in the palms of their hands. Not only is she very outspoken, she seems to question the way the young woman lives. Why having married if you could have been free? is what she seems to ask. She senses that the young woman’s life is missing something and tempts her to explore something new, maybe have an affair. A very feminist story for its time.

The Demon Lover combines a ghost story with the depiction of war-time London. The result is uncanny. Imagine there is a war and you flee the city, leaving everything behind; your house, your possessions. One afternoon you’re back in London and go to your abandoned house to pick up some things. The house has a ghostly feel, nobody has been there for a long time and it is surrounded by house ruins and other abandoned places. You go from room to room as if you were walking not only through your house but through the life you’ve left behind. And suddenly, someone from you distant past reappears.

After having read The Demon Lover I understand why all of Bowen’s war-time stories set in London are either ghost stories or stories with a ghostly feel. Those abandoned houses exude a great loneliness and seem to be creatures waiting for their life to resume.

The narrator of A Day in the Dark looks back on her teenage years and tells a story that took place one afternoon, a long time ago. She was a young girl, living with her uncle. She has a crush on him and their relationship is very close. It’s never said that they are having an affair but the possibility of it is palpable. On that afternoon she visits a rich woman. She has to give her back magazines her uncle has borrowed. The woman hints at things the young girl doesn’t understand.

It’s a very complex, and multilayered story. The characters are revealed through small hints and descriptions. The way it is written is meta-fictional as the narrator intrudes, points out what could have been described and remembered otherwise.

A Day in the Dark is a very dense and mysterious story. Reading it was like eating an exotic fruit for the first time. It’s nice but so strange that one wonders continuously whether one really likes it and why and tries to put into words how it tastes. It’s one of those short stories you could read again and again and would still have unanswered questions, new possible interpretations. I loved it.

This post is a contribution to Mel’s Irish Short Story Month.

Elizabeth Bowen and Irish Short Story Week

Elizabeth Bowen Collected Stories

I just wanted to let you know that Mel’s Irish Short Story Week is upcoming in March. Because it was such a success in the last couple of years the week has been extended to a whole month and therefore runs from March 1 until March 31 2013.

I discovered some great new writers like Órfhlaith Foyle and Kevin Barry last year, but I also rediscovered old favourites like Elizabeth Bowen. I read a few of her short stories and had sworn I would read more. This year I’m planning on reading several of her stories contained in the Collected Stories which seems to be a great collection.

To stay in line with this month’s theme my Literature and War Readalong, which takes place at the end of the month, also features a book by Elizabeth Bowen – The Heat of the Day.

Because I loved the stories I read last year so much I also got her book Love’s Civil War which contains letters and diary entries and Victoria Glendinning’s biography which was recommended by Mel u. I might start the one or the other or even both.

For more details and Irish reading suggestions please visit Mel u at The Reading Life.

Orfhlaith Foyle