It always happens when you go away doesn’t it? You get to your point of destination, in this case my mothers, and you just go to have a look through their bookshelves (an almost instant port of call if I am visiting anyone’s house) and you see a few books that you wouldn’t mind reading. The only thing is you have brought an 800 pager all the way from down south and you haven’t enough time in that weekend to read all the books that you feast your eyes upon and so you pick one… the shortest one. Well I couldn’t find much shorter than The Labrador by Margaret Atwood at 64 pages.
‘The Labrador Fiasco’ isn’t, as I thought it might well be, a delightful short story about a dog. Instead Margaret Atwood manages to write two stories in one in a very limited number of words leaving me once again floored by how clever she is, mind you by now I should be expecting it. One tale is that of a son as he comes home to see his father who has recently had a stroke. He joins his parents as his mother sits down to tell his father his favourite tale that of intrepid yet foolhardy explorers in Labrador in Canada. This is the second tale that also happens to be within the first tale.
Because this delightful ‘Bloomsbury Birthday Quid’ (I now want to look up the whole lot of this series) is so short I won’t go into too much detail about what follows but both tales moved me in a short space of time particularly the main father and son tale. There is a lot of emotion yet in very little words, Atwood somehow casts a spell over the pages and simply makes you feel everything this family is going through without spelling it all out for you. She seems to trust her readers will jin the dots and indeed I did.
I honestly don’t know how Atwood can do this in such a subtle way. Some short stories can race through as much as possible and jam pack as many subjects, themes, thoughts and characters in as possible. Not Atwood, though you could say a story of a family and a story of explorers in the story is a lot, this is a minimalistic and simple tale – or pair of tales – that sticks with you long after you have read it. I have done a little research and it seems that ‘The Labrador Fiasco’ has now ended up in Atwood’s collection ‘Moral Disorder’ which fortunately I own and will be turning my attention too sharpish. 7.5/10
Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Good Bones – Margaret Atwood (great collection of short Atwood works, I should say Moral Disorder but I haven’t read it yet)
Legend of a Suicide – David Vann (for short stories – in a novel, sort of – about fathers and sons and indeed exploring the wilderness)
Oh before I go two more things, one how wonderful is the french cover (see left)? I also wanted to mention how this book really took me back. When I opened it I was greeted with the date ‘1996’ and some familiar writing which had inscribed ‘Dear Mummy, I saw this and thought you might like it, Simon’ and it brought many memories back. Mum has always been a big Atwood fan, though am not sure she has read ‘The Year of the Flood’ and I remember how I would look at all the Atwood’s that she owned and think ‘who is Margaret Atwood, why would you want to read that many of her books and being slightly mystified by it all. How things change eh? That could be a post for the future I think, the books we remember from the shelves of our youths! I will take this further soon. Has anyone read any of the other Bloomsbury Quids?