#LockedInABookshop – The Books I Would Read if I Found Myself in the Position of the #WaterstonesOne

Most of you will have undoubtedly heard about the luck misfortune of David Willis who suffered the amazing awful ordeal of being accidentally locked into the Trafalgar Square store of Waterstones for a few hours before, having tweeted, he was rescued. The most amazing thing I found about this story was that he actually told anyone that he was stuck in there, I wouldn’t have. If you haven’t been to the Trafalgar Square branch of Waterstones it is one of my favourites, floors and floors of books, loads of stationery, comfy armchairs and a wonderful cafe and restaurant. It would be a dream to spend a night, let alone two hours, stuck in there. We have all surely had that thought of hiding somewhere in a bookshop and waiting to be locked in haven’t we? I would have had a good old wander through the store and picked up some books to read, made a cocktail or two at the bar and headed for a comfy sofa for the evening. I certainly wouldn’t do this…

Waterstones have themselves blogged amusingly about the types of books they would recommend if you were stuck in there for two hours. Kate of Adventures with Words, has gone for a list of five books that she would recommend if you were stuck in there the whole night, or maybe with her list if you were stuck in there for a few days – maybe over Christmas, if you really want to avoid the family (light bulb goes on in head). I thought I would be a bit different and so have come up with the top five books I might read if I was lucky enough to have the wonderful ordeal myself…

Finish the book I am currently reading…

I know this might sound really boring but before I could even consider reading anything else I would have to finish the current book I was reading. I am a real stickler for being monogamous with books, unless you are reading something really, really long (be it fiction or not) and have something very different to read between. At the moment that would mean finishing off Sacred Country (my hands automatically always type scared, what does that say about me?) by Rose Tremain which I mentioned I was reading yesterday. I am really enjoying this thought provoking novel of a young girl who aged 6 decides she wants to be a boy, so that would stand me in good stead for a while. So that would be my first port of call, the T section for Tremain. Oh and don’t even question if it would be in stock, Waterstones Trafalgar Square has almost every book in the world in it.

Go and grab that book by a favourite author I have been saving for a rainy day/saving for being locked in a bookshop…

We all do it, don’t we? We buy books by our very favourite authors that we leave languishing on a shelf because we know that there will at some point be that just right rainy day, or night locked in a bookshop, when we will turn to that book because we know it will be brilliant. I have a few contenders for that title; Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill, and Music for Chameleon’s by Truman Capote, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. That’s a list of five books in its own right so for the sake of this exercise I will pick just one… Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood would be my choice today.

The book that everyone else seems to be going on about and I haven’t read yet…

This would easily be We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  by Karen Joy Fowler. I wanted to read it when it came out. Then I heard the spoiler twist, which I won’t spoil, and still really wanted to read it. Then almost everyone seemed to be reading it. Then it was long and shortlisted for the Man Booker and the whole world seems to have read it but me, even my aunty text me this very morning asking if I knew the ‘yellow and black book with ourselves in the title’. Not everyone loves it, my dear friend Tracy Trim – as I like to call her – is struggling at the mo, and some people downright hate it. I still feel it is a book I need to read, so I would get that from the entrance hall where it’s bound to be on several tables.

A book completely at random…

As I am in a bookstore and have potentially read a book or two and a half by now, I would probably need a longer wander than just to the bar or the loos to stretch my legs. So I would go and just have a wander and see what randomly took my fancy. Quite probably something short and in translation!

That big bloody classic I have always meant to read…

Yes I am talking about that masterpiece that everyone else has read, probably twice, and I just haven’t. For some people it is Moby Dick (it’s boat based, I will never read this book, I am at one with that fact), for some it is War and Peace (which my mother waited until she was on maternity leave, awaiting the arrival my sister, to crack) for some it is Crime and Punishment or one of the other Russian greats. For me it is Gone With The Wind. I took it away with me to the US and came back with having made a small, rather pathetic, 150 page dent in it. The bookmark is still stuck in page 150. I need to be stranded somewhere to read it from cover to cover properly because while I was enjoying it, now back home I have so many other books to choose from. Oh, I have seen a major flaw with this choice… Let’s move on.

So if you were to be locked in a bookshop over night which books would you go and find and read? Which books, like Kate, would you recommend to others? I haven’t done this because there are only so many times I can mention Rebecca on this blog in a post and sometimes I worry I am in danger of reaching that limit. And this last question almost seems silly to even ask, but would you actually tell anyone? I think I would simply stay in there all night and wait for the staff to arrive the next day.

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What Are You Reading Right Now?

So as this week has been bonkers, and because I always love seeing what everyone is reading as I am a right old nosey so and so, I thought we could quickly share what is going on in our reading worlds at the moment. Ever one to share I am just about to start reading Sacred Country by Rose Tremain, which is the next in the Trespassing with Tremain project which I am doing in honour of Granny Savidge. I am really looking forward to settling down with it over the weekend, especially as I have read pretty much nothing since last weekend and also as I am 99% sure I am going to love it as Rose Tremain is becoming one of my favourite writers.

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So what about you lovely lot? Which book or books have you got on at the moment? How are you finding them? What might you be thinking of reading over the weekend?

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Just Richard Flanagan and I, Having a Chat…

Blimey where have the last two weeks gone? Last week seemed to be taken up with the Green Carnation Prize longlisting meetings and discussions (and all the admin that followed), plus a few author interviews, then I was off back home to the Peak District to stay with my mad aunty Caz and then this week I have been prepping for something else which I can’t talk about yet. This isn’t me trying to be mysterious and coy. I am just waiting to find out what is what. Anyway…

One of the interviews I recorded last week was with the lovely Richard Flanagan for You Wrote The Book, well he only went and won the Man Booker Prize this week! I thought being a bookish lot you might like a listen to it maybe, perhaps? If so the link is here.

I will be telling you all about The Narrow Road to the Deep North on Sunday but in the interim let me just say it is quite, quite amazing. I still can’t quite shake it. Kim of Reading Matters has been telling me to read him for ages and I have wanted to read this one in particular since I saw it discussed on The First Tuesday Book Club with Jennifer, Marieke, Jason and co. I can certainly see what all the talk has been for.

So have a listen if you fancy it. Just because I am nosey though, what are your thoughts on the Booker prize this year, both the lists and the new rules?

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My Top Ten UK Bookshops (Currently)

I thought today, in honour of the Books Are My Bag initiative, I would share some of my favourite bookshops with you all. Obviously you will be heading to your local bookshop today and supporting them, if they are one of these then pretend I am there in spirit. Though actually if you are in my number one choice this afternoon it is quite likely that I will be there perusing the shelves and then head up for coffee and cake. So without further waffle or ado here are my top ten bookshops…

 

  1. Scarthin Books, Cromford, Derbyshire

Scarthin Books has been a constant in my life from roughly from birth. Coming from Matlock Bath, which is just up the road, we would often go for a walk (not every week) that took us up and down the hills with a wonderful reward halfway along. I used to love spending a good hour or so in the small corridor room under the stairs which was the children’s section whilst Gran and Mum explored the new and second hand books. Of course as I have grown up it has been a case of myself and Gran and/or Mum doing the same while someone waits upstairs eating a cake! Scarthin is a wonderful place, brimming with books and happy memories for me.

  1. Scriveners, Buxton, Derbyshire

Derbyshire is doing well with my selection so far, true there is the bias of my background and homelands BUT to only think it is that is to do both Scarthin and Scriveners a disservice. Scriveners is like a wonderful maze of second hand books over five floors. Yes you read that right, FIVE FLOORS. So that you have a good old browse there are even free refreshments and sofas, you need a good few hours to wander and I doubt you will leave empty handed. Two additional fascinating facts about Scriveners is that they print books in house and also have a ghost!

  1. Wenlock Books, Much Wenlock, Shropshire

I think if I was ever to own a bookshop, which is the dream of many of us isn’t it, then Wenlock Books would pretty much be it. They have a wonderful selection of new books downstairs which you feel are truly hand selected. There is also a wonderful array of bookish gifts (mugs, bags, etc) and stationery and then, if that wasn’t enough, there is a wonderful floor upstairs that are crammed with second hand books. Wonderful.

  1. The Book Barge, On The Canals of the UK

Floating along the canals of the UK, and possibly heading to Europe soon, is the lovely Sarah and her wonderful barge filled with books and even a house boat bunny on occasion. Here there are a mix of new and old books and it just feels like a wonderful haven bobbing up and down brimming with books. If the Book Barge is ever near your house then get yourself to it pronto! Sarah has even written a book all about running it which you will be hearing about here very soon!

  1. Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London

I have always been a big fan of Foyles and when I was part of a London bookshop I would a) meet my other book group members before and b) buy the next book afterwards in the South Bank branch. I also loved spending hours on the old Charing Cross Road branch. I was slightly apprehensive about the ‘new’ one, but when I went there for a GCP meeting last month I fell in love. It is airy, spacious, has thousands of books, a wonderful cafe – let’s face it I could move in. Expect a tour on the blog in the next few weeks!

  1. Gays The Word, London

I remember when I first moved to London I went and hunted Gays The Word down. It was a place of legend. As a young gay man I used fiction as a way to discover ‘people like me’ and try and understand it all and indeed myself. I was too scared to go in and so looked at it, walked past, turned around, walked past and looked in again. I finally went in a year later. Since then I have always popped in and since becoming close friends with the lovely Uli there make sure I pop in on every trip back. They have brilliant events, often with booze  – booze and books are a wonderful mix, and it is like the history of LGBT writing opens before your eyes when you walk through the door.

  1. Persephone Books, London

I am quite cross that I didn’t discover this gem until not long before I left London, especially as I was such a fan of the books however for some bonkers reason I didn’t connect the two. Perspehone Books of course only stock Persephone Books and there is something rather magical about that in itself. Now whenever I go back I make sure that I pop in and if I am lucky Nicola Beauman is in and we have a coffee and a natter. I always end up buying at least two or three books, how could you not?

  1. Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester

I wanted to include Waterstones because whilst they aren’t independent they are a place that I have spent many happy times and indeed have been a wonderful place to head to in unhappy times. Waterstones were always a treat, like Thorntons, to visit when myself, Mum and Gran went on shopping trips. They were the reward after wandering around a museum, cathedral, art gallery or three hour tour of John Lewis. I would be allowed to pick three books and that was my treat. In adulthood I have spent many hours wandering them with Polly, competing as to who has read the most. Deansgate is extra special to me because when I left London is was a haven and the place I would meet most of my mates. I also got to read Rebecca, well the first chapter, to an audience for World Book Night there, have been to some of my mates book launches there, even had (hope The Beard isn’t reading) a few dates in there and ran a literary salon there for a while. Books and brilliant memories, with the odd splash of something sparkly. Lush.

  1. White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough, Wiltshire

When I was a youth, and in my early teens, I lived in Marlborough in Wiltshire. The library was the place that we headed the most, however as a treat when I had been extra good (which in my teens wasn’t very often, the telly got banned once) I would be allowed to go and get a nice new pristine book from the White Horse Bookshop which spans over a few floors. I haven’t been in quite a few years but I heard from Naomi Woods, when she was at the Marlborough Literature Festival, that it is still wonderful.

= 10.  Lingham Booksellers, Heswall, Cheshire

Now I have a joint pair of books at number ten and that is because they are both local to me and very, very different in delightful ways. Linghams won the independent bookseller of the year last year and as soon as you walk in you know why. There are the latest must reads, unusual staff picks (from some of the most friendly and knowledgeable staff) and they have some corking events. They also do their own line of wonderful bookish gifts and I have a very special ‘one off’ purple Linghams bag which I am most proud of. Happy, knowledgable, friendly staff and a good selection are always a winner.

= 10. Oxton Village Books, Oxton, Cheshire

Finally there is the wonderful Oxton Village Books which used to be in the post office, and when I saw had closed down I almost physically wept, yet now resides in the wonderful Williamson Art Gallery and Museum which is roughly three minutes walk from my house. They only deal with second hand books inside BUT you can order new ones through them. They are my number one destination when I am looking for something slightly older or just fancy a browse and also when I have a good few bags of books that were sent unsolicited that I don’t want – well after my mother gets first dibs obviously, in case she is reading this. The owners are wonderful and it feels like the perfect addition to such a cultural spot. Lovely stuff.

So those are the bookshops I would highly recommend. Obviously I have not been to every bookshop in the land, though wouldn’t that be marvellous? I could write a Rough Guide to British Bookshops.  I have missed a few of my other favourites, but eleven seemed a cheat enough, I could also have mentioned any of the Daunt Bookshops, which are wonderfully organised by country which is a brilliant idea; I could also have mentioned the lovely Review Bookshop in Peckham which is run by the lovely Evie Wyld… There are so many!

So which bookshop will you be heading to? Which is your local favourite and do you have any other favourites that you think readers of this blog should visit? Have you any titles you have in your site that you might end up popping in your Books Are My Bag bag?

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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2014

Now if you have seen me chuntering on about this on Twitter, you can forgive me, ignore this post or just enjoy the exciting news all over again. Yes, today has been the announcement of the Green Carnation Prize 2014’s longlist. You may or may not know that this prize is very close to my heart as it is one that I co-founded way back in 2010 (I won’t go on you can read all about it here) to celebrate LGBT writing as it is something, that believe it or not, there is still sometimes some stumbling blocks in the way of. The prize has gone from strength to strength in the last five years, with a lot of hard work I won’t lie, and is now in association with Foyles Bookshops and this years judges have come up with this rather wonderful selection of books…

The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2014

  • Through The Woods – Emily Carroll (Faber & Faber)
  • The Absent Therapist – Will Eaves (CB Editions)
  • The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • All The Days and Nights – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
  • Vixen – Rosie Garland (Borough Press)
  • Thirst – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan (Salt)
  • In Search of Solace – Emily Mackie (Sceptre)
  • Any Other Mouth – Anneliese Mackintosh (Freight)
  • The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
  • Unspeakable Things – Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury)
  • Invisible Love – Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Europa Editions)
  • The Glasgow Coma Scale – Neil D. A. Stewart (Corsair)

What is exciting is that while I do all the admin of the prize and the snaring of judges, I have absolutely no control over what the judges choose as their longlist out of the submissions they get (this year was the most ever). I just make sure they all have them really and sit in on meetings to make sure it is all above board. I have to keep my mouth shut and remain nonchalant throughout even if books I love get culled – after all I haven’t read the whole lot of submission have I? Well, not since I stopped judging. So the longlist is always a surprise to me. Having had a few days to think on this list (a small bonus that almost makes up for all the press release, website and social media scheduling madness that follows the decision) the more and more I have fallen in love with it.

To me, at least, it seems like a really diverse and exciting list of all sorts of writing be it a thick epic novel or a short snappy one, a memoir, a short story collection, memoir, non fiction or graphic novel. Amazing. There is a mix of the big publishers and the smaller indies. There is also a wealth of authors I had and hadn’t heard of, meaning some new exciting voices look to be on my reading horizon… Yes, I am planning on reading all (eight) that I haven’t yet in the next few weeks and I am really excited about it. Though I might not be able to talk to you about them until after the winner, though maybe not being a judge I can? What do you think? Hmmm, I will have a think! Either way is it bad that I feel very proud of the prize, the judges and even a teeny weeny bit proud of myself?

For more info on the prize, the judges, events and more head to the website here. What are your thoughts on the list? Have you read any of them? Will you be reading any of them? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

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The Dig – Cynan Jones

I have been pondering why it is that I am becoming a fan of shorter fiction more and more. I have heard many people saying shorter fiction is perfect for the social generation who find it very hard to concentrate on reading anything longer than a status update. There may be a modicum of truth in that I suppose, on occasion, yet when you read a book like Cynan Jones’ The Dig and undergo what is an incredibly visceral, earthy, upsetting (I cried and I heaved – seriously) and emotionally intense experience you wonder why any author bothers writing anything over 160 pages. Of course some short works do not come close to that experience and some long books are immersive wonders, you get my point though I am hoping.

Granta Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 156 pages, kindly sent by the lovely folk at Fiction Uncovered HQ

In The Dig we follow the lives of two men who live in the same remote countryside and who have met briefly once and who couldn’t be more different. Daniel is a farmer who is struggling both with keeping his farm profitable and running and also with a personal tragedy. I will not give away what because when you find out early on it is like a physical punch. I cried that is all I will say. The other character, who we only know as ‘the big man’ is a much darker kind of fellow; one who trains his dog to kill rats, catches badgers for baiting and has been to prison for something we are unsure of. The question is of course how and why might these two men meet up again?

The Dig is incredibly written. It consists of paragraphs that give us snapshots into both characters feelings, occasionally slipping us up as to who is narrating, meaning that both characters show their darker and lighter sides. I love books set in the countryside because behind the picturesque white fences and lace curtains, or down the back alleys and over the hills, there is a dark animalistic nature (pun not intended) to the countryside which is isolating, hard and dangerous. Jones depicts this beautifully, yet without ever getting flowery. This book is all about cold drips, muddy squelches, twigs cracking and fires crackling. Note – those are all my words just for illustration, Cynan has a much broader vocabulary than I.

The scent of her was in the room and it almost choked him to understand how vital to him this was; how he could never understand her need for his own smell, could not even understand howshe could find it on him under the animal smells, the carbolic, the tractor oil and bales and all the things he could pick out on his own hands. He had this idea of smells layering themselves over him, like paint on a stone wall, and again he has this sense of extraordinary resilient tiredness. He wondered what isolated, essential smell she found on him, knew the mammalian power of this from the way pups would stumble blindly to their mother’s teat, the way a ewe would butt a lamb that wasn’t hers. In the shock of birthing, all that first recognition would be in that smell. They would take the skin sometimes of a dead lamb and tie it on an orphan like a coat in the hope that the mother who had lost her lamb would accept and raise it as her own.

Now when I say the book looks at nature and humans in at its most raw, I am not kidding and it may be too much for some people. There’s blood, there’s badger baiting, there’s putting hands into sheep’s wombs (I wanted to say up sheeps bottoms to break the tension slightly and make you all chuckle, but that would be anatomically incorrect). Yet they are described naturally, frankly and without any sense of voyeurism or only writing to shock. Even the shocking parts have their importance within the novel be it the badger baiting (which made me cry, did I mention I cried quite a lot at this book) or some of the raw basic nature of the farming, one scene which lead me to heave as Daniel has to deal with a problem many farmers are sure to face in their career. They show another sense of duality that The Dig seems to have throughout. Here it is the acts of violence we humans can inflict upon nature and the acts of violence nature can inflict on itself and humans.

These dualities appear a lot in The Dig and I wondered if that was an intention of Jones’? From the start Daniel and the big man are polar opposites, Daniel being vulnerable and the big man being dangerous. Then we have the dualities of their thoughts and actions. The big man having some nasty thrill at watching his semi starved dogs killing rats or trapping badgers, yet constantly fearful of being trapped or caught out himself. Daniel is at the darkest depths of his emotions and yet he witnesses the amazing gift of new life with his animals. There is also the question of traps and not only the ones we set for others, or fall into, but the ones we create for ourselves. The beauty of nature vs. the brutality of nature. All this interwoven in a sparse swift book, it’s quite astounding.

It feels almost wrong to say I enjoyed The Dig, in fact at one point between weeping for the badgers and heaving at the bluntness of what I was reading I may have cursed Cynan Jones, yet at the end I was really thankful for the gut wrenching experience. (It also helped that I reminded myself that no badgers were actually harmed in the making of this book.) I think in many ways The Dig is something of a masterpiece. I have not read a book quite like it and certainly not one that in so few pages creates the essence of the countryside at its raw and wildest, the animalistic nature of, erm, nature and the fact that we humans are really nothing more than animals too. Oh and the inherent evil of horses.

The Dig was one of this year’s winners for Fiction Uncovered and once again proves why it is such a bloody marvellous initiative as it highlights such brilliant books. You can also see a fantastic spoiler free review here from Just William’s Luck and a brilliant one with a slight spoiler here at The Asylum, I have warned you of the spoiler. Who else has read The Dig and what did you make of it? Have any of your read his other novels The Long Dry or Everything I Found on the Beach, as I am now desperate to get them in the TBR.

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The Darkness of Wallis Simpson – Rose Tremain

One of the reasons that when I was choosing the list of books for Trespassing with Tremain I decided to include The Darkness of Wallace Simpson and Other Stories, was that it was the one book of Tremain’s that I bought before inheriting some of her others from Gran. I remember picking it up years ago simply because Wallis Simpson was a woman who had always fascinated me; as a person, her role in history and how people reacted to her, simple as that. I also thought it might be interesting to see how Tremain handles the short story, which many authors say is much harder than writing an actual novel.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2006, short stories, 224 pages, from my personal collection

The Darkness of Wallis Simpson is a rather fascinating collection of short stories in many ways. This set of twelve tales may happen all over the world in different time periods yet the main narrator of the tale, or protagonist, is undergoing some sort of darkness. It might be loss, it might be grief, it could be death surrounding them or being upon them, each tale has its own dark heart. This might make it sound like a sombre and rather macabre collection yet when you come away from the collection you feel anything but depressed. After all aren’t the best fairytales about just these things.

It could be tempting to give this collection the tag of ‘modern fairytale’ in part because there are often abandoned children, snowy landscapes and in one case, Moth, there is even a child who magically sprouts wings. Yet there is so much reality, and often a historical link, embedded in them that you feel these are the stories of ordinary human beings in unordinary situations of high drama within their lives. When we go through loss and/or grief we are of course at our most emotional extremes and life doesn’t seem quite real and yet it is. Tremain has a wonderful way of capturing that.

Some of the short stories are literally just that, short sharp bursts into a characters life. How It Stacks Up looks at a man who suddenly on his birthday realises he is utterly unhappy with his life. The Dead Are Only Sleeping starts with Nell answering the phone to discover her dad has died and relief fills her. The Over-Ride  is quite something as is takes in one person’s youth, marriage, widowhood and downward spiral in only ten pages. The aforementioned Moth is another such short wonder. Not a word is wasted, every single one counts.

In those days, there was a madhouse in our village.
It’s name was Waterford Asylum, but we knew it as ‘the Bin’.
It appeared to have no policy of selection or rejection. If you felt your own individual craziness coming on, you could present yourself at the door of the Bin and this door would open for you and kindly staff would take you in, and you would be sheltered from the cruel world. This was the 1950s. A lot of people were suffering from post-war sadness. In Norfolk, it seemed to be a sadness too complete to be assuaged by the arrival of rock’n’roll.
Soon after my sister, Aviva, died of influenza in 1951, my brother in law, Victor, turned up at the Bin with his shoes in a sack and a broken Doris Day record. He was one of the many voluntary loonies, driven mad by grief. His suitability as a resident of Waterford Asylum was measured by his intermittent belief that this record, which had snapped in half, like burned, brittle caramel crust, could be mended.

This is also the case in the longer tales and here, as shown in the opening sections of The Ebony Hand (which isn’t the ghost story you might be imagining, yet is marvellous regardless), Tremain has a wonderful way of managing to make a story within these stories in a mere paragraph of two. She does this again in the wonderful Loves Me, Loves Me Not which is one of the most bittersweet and heartbreaking love stories I have ever read, it will break your heart and then do it again. The same happens with The Cherry Orchard, with Rugs which is subtle, beautiful and devastating tale of an almost love affair. Both times you come away pretty close to being emotionally shattered and you thank Tremain for doing that to you.

If this makes it all sound like it is too dark or wrought, Tremain does what she did so marvellously in Trespass where she combines the dark with the very funny. Mentioning Moth again, which as you will have guessed was one of the standouts for me, we have the magical and bizarre image of a child who can fly away from its parents, and we also have a suicide which is greeted with a one liner that made me cackle and cackle. The same duality works in all the tales, Peerless also standing out as Badger, a nickname that stuck from childhood, adopts a Penguin who soon reminds him of someone from his past, it is funny and tear inducing, just what all the best tales are.

I also loved the way you could see what had inspired Tremain. You may be wondering why I have included a picture of James Tissot’s Holyday, well it is the inspiration behind Death of an Advocate which is another tale that had me giggling at the start before being shocked out of my laughter. History inspires many of the tales here too. The post war syndrome inspiring The Ebony Hand, one of the Word Wars inspiring Loves Me, Loves Me Not and the knocking down of the Berlin Wall inspiring The Beauty of the Dawn Shift. One tale, Nativity Story, is based on, erm, just that. Then of course there is the real life historical figure of Wallis Simpson who inspires the title tale.

Kissing her one minute, hitting her the next. A person out of a nightmare. There’s no talking to such a creature. Wallis can say words today, but why should she? Why should she waste her precious breath talking to this hag?
She turns her face away. Sees the girl in the apron staring at her with such a sad pitying look, it makes her weep. Fuck all these people. Piss in the damned pan and be done with them. Have them draw the curtains again. Go back to the darkness.

Before I round up the collection I want to pay special attention to The Darkness of Wallace Simpson itself which I think is one of the best short stories I have ever read. It is the longest of the collection at forty pages and yet is the one I rushed through the fastest before having to read it all over again once I had finished the collection. It brims, it is jam packed. Firstly there is the tale of Wallis herself, as she lies dying in Paris she is thinking over her life and Tremain somehow packs in the life of a woman in forty pages, yet I felt I had came away reading a biography. Her childhood, marriages and old ages are all covered, it is deftly done. There is also the tale of a woman always slightly on the back foot of life, from being disapproved of by family, then husbands, then the public and even her own careers. It looks at domestic abuse, grief, lack of freedom and love. It is just incredible.

Yet again Tremain has delivered for me in abundance. Her writing is clear, concise, vivid and just wonderful really. Each story stood out, they might have had a linking theme throughout but The Darkness of Wallis Simpson and Other Stories  is a wonderfully diverse collection where each story stands out.

I loved it and cannot wait to read her new collection, The American Lover on and off over the next few weeks as well as Sacred Country and Restoration as we carry on with Trespassing with Tremain. That is quite enough from me though for the moment, if you have read it what did you make of it? If you haven’t read it yet, read it.

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Filed under Review, Rose Tremain, Short Stories, Trespassing with Tremain, Vintage Books