Happy new year fellow bookworms! I know it’s been a little quiet on here over the last couple of months but I am determined to start 2018 with a flourish and a commitment to writing reviews and bookish posts on a regular basis. Over the last months I have changed careers – I am now a freelance translator – and this has meant that most of my time, energy and brain power has been focused on finding the work and then doing the work! I haven’t read half as much as I have wanted to and so the Christmas break was a glorious chance to fit in hours and hours of reading. I do have a little backlog of books that I wish to write about, so I shall focus on these over the next few posts before beginning with my 2018 reads.
Today, I want to tell you about two short story collections, which I read in close proximity to one another. I’m not usually a lover of short stories, I don’t seem to be able to connect with them deeply enough; they are always finished before I am able to lose myself in them. However, I adore folklore, traditional stories and tales of myth and magic. Stories of the other, stories with twists and turns, stories which embrace darkness and explore the what ifs.
Taken from the blurb:
‘Stories of family and magic, lost souls and superstition. Spirits in jam jars, mini apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows. Mermaids are on display at the local aquarium. A girl runs a coffin hotel on a small island. And a couple are rewriting the history of the world in the middle of the night.’
I fell in love with each and every story. I haven’t added so many post it note markers to a book for a very long time. Jen Campbell not only fills the pages full to the brim with an incredibly in depth exploration of folklore/magic/fairy tales, but her unique story creations are the most imaginative I’ve read. Not only is she an awesome story teller in terms of plot and intriguing characters, but her use of language is a sheer delight. These are definitely stories to read out loud. The observations Jen Campbell makes about what it is to be human, what it is we need to survive and thrive, are spot on and very thought provoking. I read a story each day, even though I was sorely tempted to devour the entire book in one sitting. I found that each story had such a lot to give, so much material to think about and digest that in order to honour that process, I needed to let each one sit with me for a while. And with most of them, I also re read the story a second time, be it for sheer pleasure or in order to dive deeper.
Of course, I have favourites: Plum Pie. Zombie Green. Yellow Bee. Purple Monster: the story of a group of children united in their otherness, living on the outskirts of society as they slowly turn into plants. Little Deaths: a tale of ghosts floating openly as part of everyday life, carrying human memories, developing their own personalities. Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel: where human vulnerability is targeted for financial gain but where a young niece manages to nurture guests regardless. I could write much more, so much more, but I don’t want to spoil it for you in this post, I may well write a second post where I can analyse to my heart’s content! What a treasure this book is.
I cannot recommend this collection enough. It is simply stunning.
I am not a fan of Disney sweetened fairy tales and like many others, have issues with the general representation of women in these watered-down fairy tales. So, when I saw Jen talking about this collection on her booktube channel, I knew this was something I had to read. Sullivan uses classic fairy tale structures and twists them into stories of unique, resilient, self-aware, complex women, who refuse to fall into tidy categories. Women, who are often not accepted in society as they struggle to conform. Women who do not fit in. Women, who are often seen as failures. Women who are sometimes broken.
These tales are dark; there is anger, rage, manipulation and revenge in abundance. They feel gritty, real and far away from happy ever afters. The theme of otherness is striking throughout: Cinderella’s dwarfism; the stigma of not having children in Rapunzel; mutilation in order to be accepted by society in the Little Mermaid; the deep scars of eating disorders in Hansel and Gretel. The writing style is sumptuous, intricate, evocative, poetic and equally harsh, shocking and provocative. The black and white illustrations are beautifully drawn, reminiscent of old fairy tale books interwoven with a contemporary edge, they finish off this collection off perfectly.
So, there you have it, these two books have changed my mind; I shall now be more open to reading further short story collections of this genre in 2018 and I may even write a tale of my own…