November 21st, 2010

short stories

Sourdough and Other Stories, by Angela Slatter

Like Diana Comet, this is a collection which really doesn't call to have the individual stories reviewed.  Sourdough is about three steps closer to being a mosaic novel than Diana Comet is, and while a few of the stories have been published elsewhere (though the majority are new to this collection) the collection is stronger as a whole than any of its individual parts.

Angela Slatter's short fiction tends towards fairytale concepts - often interrogating the 'happy ever after' and 'romantic' sensibilities associated with those tales to reveal the sticky, mean and bitter undercurrents that run through them.  The first few stories very much follow in that tradition - but as the book continues, the stories begin to build upon each other, with characters crossing from one story to another, and whole narratives occuring in bits and pieces.  The effect is a build up of tensions and investment from the reader, and it made the last few stories in particular really engrossing.  The world that serves as background to these stories begins as a fairly generic 'place where fairytales happen' but later expands to include familiar buildings, cities and historical events.  It might emerge only piece by piece, but it takes on a very real quality.

What I noticed most was that every story was narrated in first person by a different female character.  Most of these were quite young, though a few were mothers.  The effect was rather interesting - I'm used to more of a variety of character types in anthologies and collections, particularly with first person stories.  It meant this was very much a story about women, particularly the plucky young girl/princess archetype who is so prevalent in fairytales.  Slatter's young women are as a group far more damaged, brittle and endangered than the shiny Disney heroines people might expect, and I liked the fact that we often got to see stories from more than one perspective, as many of the protagonists return older and/or wiser in later stories.

I very much liked "The Shadow Tree," "Dibblespin," "The Story of Ink" and "The Bones Remember Everything," but my absolute favourites were "Lost Things," "Lavender and Lychgates," and "Under the Mountain."

This is a beautifully packaged book which calls to be appreciated and re-read for the many layers that lie within.