Category Archives: short stories

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett Title: Fabulous
Author: Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0008334857
Genre: Short Stories, Fairy Tales & Myths
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

March 2020 is turning out to be a great month when it comes to short-story collections, and Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the third one.

These eight stories are derived from popular and not-so-popular myths. Myths are constantly being adapted and this is one example of that. Each of these stories is set in modern Britain. The characters therefore are in tune with people we hear of or meet; people-traffickers, prostitutes, migrant workers, estate agents, librarians, and office-goers. These are ordinary people really, but all their stories are inspired by Graeco-Roman myths, or from the Bible, or from folklore.

We know these stories. We have heard of them or read them in their original form (if that’s a thing really). We know of Orpheus, Psyche, Tristan and Isolde, the Pied Piper, and Mary Magdalene, and if we don’t then these stories will make you want to know about them.

For me the stories that stood out were Pasiphae and the minotaur with seaside gangsters, the one with Mary Magdalena and Joseph, and the Pied Piper one. Having said that, each story is a commentary on the state we live in and what we have become as a people.

Hughes-Hallett’s style is direct. The range of retellings is wide enough, so it doesn’t get boring or mundane. I love the way the themes are constructed and presented to the reader. The stories are familiar and yet not so familiar. She blends the everyday with the mythical with great ease, and with each chapter I was more hooked and intrigued to know more. Fabulous is a collection of short stories that are whimsy, fantastical, sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, and random which worked beautifully for me.

 

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

And I Do Not Forgive You - Stories & Other Revenges by Amber Sparks Title: And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges
Author: Amber Sparks
Publisher: Liveright, W.W. Norton & Co.
ISBN: 978-1631496202
Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Amber Sparks writes short fiction with such deft and empathy, that it manages to hit all the right spots for me. There is fantasy in her stories, grounded in reality of our lives that make us see lives of others, while always holding a reflection up to ours. This collection of 22 stories is strange, mesmerising, and often tend to go to dark places, which some readers may not be comfortable with. She reimagines myths and legends, folk tales, fairy tales, and sometimes even reimagines the world we inhabit.

Whether she is writing about a teenage girl befriending a ghost in her trailer park or about a princess who wants to run away from her father, the King who wants to marry her, she packs a punch almost most of the time. These stories are about women, for women, and written by a woman. These stories put them to the front and that’s what I loved the most about them. There is no “male perspective” and to me that is always refreshing.

The stories might come across as whimsical sometimes but they are extremely profound (I reread some and loved them even more). For instance, love as sacrifice in We Destroy the Moon – that speaks of  new prophet or demigod or leader at the end, implies that why can’t a woman be at the helm of things? What is then the definition of a woman? Is she a mere follower? Or could be a leader?

The relationships between characters in these stories take their time to develop, some even come to light right at the end and that’s perhaps the beauty of these stories. Nothing is expected. Nothing is the same. From husbands who grow wings, to lion tamers that get eaten, to moments of extraordinary happiness that spurt to life here and there, Spark’s stories are dangerous, on-the-edge, comforting (strangely), and dream of a world that is possible. A world of freedom.

 

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano Title: Faces on the Tip of my Tongue
Author: Emmanuelle Pagano
Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-1908670540
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am glad I reread it because of it being on the 2020 International Booker Longlist, and me being on the shadow panel. This is the first of the 13 that I have read (reread) and 12 more to go, but it has been such an enriching read – both in terms of content and style of writing.

“Faces on the Tip of My Tongue” by Emmanuelle Pagano is a collection of thirteen interlinked short stories set in France, across several decades. It is the third book in the publisher’s 2019 “There Be Monsters” series. As the stories progress, meanings become clearer, like a jigsaw puzzle it all starts making sense. Initially it did feel a little tiresome and maybe I was lost as well, but I am glad I persisted the first time around and even now.

The collection starts off with a story called, “The Lake’s Favourite” which sets the tone of the book. It is a story of an ideal childhood and how things then turn in the life of the narrator. Don’t be fooled by this story alone. The rest of the stories are nothing like this one. They are real, hard-hitting, and make you ponder long after.

One of my favourite stories is “Mum at the Park” – a snapshot of a child’s view about their reading parent and how she gets when she is at the park. How the city doesn’t suit her and so on and so forth. “The Loony and the Bright Spark” is about misfits in society and the ever-eternal question: What does one do with them? Does one do anything with them at all?

The recurring characters, their lives in different times is at the heart of this collection. Pagano’s writing is raw in most places, tender in some, with the sense of place being at the center of the book. The translation by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins never seems choppy throughout the book. There is a balance of sorts – that manages to capture the essence of time, place, and events in the most beautiful manner. Personally, I am rooting for this one to make it to the shortlist.

North Station by Bae Suah. Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith.

North Station by Bae Suah Title: North Station
Author: Bae Suah
Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith
Publisher: Open Letter Press
ISBN: 978-1940953656
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always maintained that most of the time the short story has so much more to say than a novel on so many levels. Whether it is Munro or Atwood, or Murakami, or Carver, or Anita Desai – each of their short-story collections to me is progressively better than their novels (barring Carver as he only wrote short stories). Something about the craft of the short story that always draws me to it. The same is the case with Bae Suah’s collection “North Station”.

Emotionally haunting and stimulating, these seven stories represent the entire range of Suah’s distinctive voice and style. Each story then somehow has multiple storylines which lends them a different dimension. The stories then again aren’t easy to follow, but I am glad I kept up and didn’t abandon the read. You have to slow down and get perspective of the author’s space and time. I guess only then will one truly understand these stories.

A writer is struggling to come to terms with the death of her mentor. A play’s staging goes awry. There is also a story when time freezes for two lovers on a platform and more that make you aware of the range of the beauty in Suah’s writing. The translation then again is spot-on. The stories contain the element of the European and German style of writing, that somehow lends itself very well to Korean characters and places they inhabit.

Deborah Smith has ensured that the translation doesn’t take away from the original – in the sense that you can read Korean even though it is in English. The stories themselves like I said are all over the place – in terms of places, people, time, and jumping from one narrative to another. All said and done, this is one short story collection you must read for sure.

 

The Cracks in Our Armour by Anna Gavalda. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

The Cracks in Our Armour Title: The Cracks in Our Armour
Author: Anna Gavalda
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1787701632
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I love short stories. A good short story is as good as a novel. Sometimes even better. Of course, some may think otherwise, but this is just my opinion. And to see one of my favourite writers venture into the short-story territory was a joy and she didn’t disappoint at all. The Cracks in Our Armour is a collection of stories that is right up her alley and completely what is expected from a writer of her calibre.

I will start right away with the translation. Alison Anderson by far is one of my favourite French translators. From the Elegance of the Hedgehog to Pétronille by Amélie Nothomb, her translation prowess is on point and she brings her very best game to The Cracks in Our Armour as well.

This collection of short stories, seven of them, are all told in first person. These stories are about everyday people – who show their vulnerabilities and admit their weaknesses. There is nothing new about the characters that Gavalda introduces us to – not new to her regular readers. For instance, her trademark elements of loneliness and despair starts from the very first story and continues till the very last one. From a trucker who decides to put his dog to sleep to an alcoholic widow trying to make sense of the world, Gavalda infuses the day-to-day nature of living in her characters in big doses. They are just like you and I, and hence the connect.

Gavalda’s stories are extremely quaint in their appeal – in terms of perhaps how people behave, feel, and think, and yet set in urban places. This then places a sort of bigger burden so to say in terms of writing and connecting. I loved how people in her stories find unique solutions to modern problems of love, dating, friendship, and marriage. Her characters maybe a gloomy bunch and forever stuck in the zone of low self-esteem, but they are also full of life – even while mourning the loss of a loved one. This to me is the power of Gavalda’s writing that makes you connect so much to the characters and place.

All said and done, The Cracks in Our Armour is a collection of stories that speak to the heart in all its simplicity, complexity, and the understanding of love and empathy that makes you see the world from a larger perspective of kindness and a whole lot of heart.