I don’t generally choose what I read based solely on the gender of the author but since reading more book blogs I’ve read more articles/blog posts about the disparity between the number of male and female authors represented in publishing (the Man Booker Prize longlist springs to mind with only 3 female authors included, for example), and become aware of initiatives such as #readwomen2014.
When I stumbled across this book a couple of months ago I’d also been wanting to get back into reading short stories again because I love the form. I especially enjoy shorter stories, often finding that their brevity offers a kind of power that can’t be found in a novel. So when I saw this anthology of short stories all written by women in the library a couple of months ago I knew it was exactly the kind of book I was looking for.
The collection was originally published as part of The Story: Love, Loss, and the Lives of Women, an anthology of 100 short stories written by women, chosen by Victoria Hislop. I believe that the three parts of the original anthology have been reprinted in paperback and it’s the first collection, Love, that I found in the library. As you would expect from a collection with 100 stories, there is a broad range of contributors, and even only in Love there were authors whose work I’ve been meaning to read for a long time such as Doris Lessing; others who are completely new to me such as Alison Lurie and Clare Boylan; and those I am familiar with like Katherine Mansfield and Jeanette Winterson.
The collection as a whole works well, exploring all different kinds of love from parental to romantic; there are stories that recount happy tales of love and those which are more melancholy and haunting. The stories run chronologically by publication which works well overall, particularly in seeing the evolution of the short story form. Yet it’s clear that the placement of certain stories has also been considered in another way (which still isn’t clear to me) as some stories by the same authors are separated while others are placed together, which feels a little muddled at times.
Despite this, there isn’t a weak story in the collection – Hislop writes in the introduction that when choosing the stories, she picked those that had an emotional impact on her, and this is clear when reading. Of course, everyone’s responses to the stories will be different and there are stories that I enjoyed more than others and those that affected me more strongly.
There is Katherine Mansfield’s A Married Man’s Story which is a wonderful, mysterious story about what keeps a couple together; A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker which has a great structure and good pacing, perfectly creating a woman’s anguish as she waits for a man to call. Doris Lessing’s A Man & Two Women is probably my favourite short story in this anthology. The story sees a woman, Stella, visit her friends Jack and Dorothy who’ve recently had a baby. Lessing perfectly creates and portrays the friendship between the two women, Dorothy’s insecurity about Stella and Jack’s friendship, and the chemistry between them. It is a subtle, yet powerful story with a palpable atmosphere. Even though quite some time has passed since I read it, I can still vividly recall moments and emotions in the story which is a sign of how much I loved it.
I enjoyed Angela Carter’s retelling of Bluebeard with The Bloody Chamber. Her use of language is excellent, her descriptions luxurious and atmospheric, the story chilling (I did read this particular story at night, which certainly added to the atmosphere!) Mavis Gallant’s Rue De Lille is a subtle, quiet story, while Words by Carol Shields is a wonderfully original story about words and language and their power. Ilse’s House by Alison Lurie is a mysterious story with an unsettling and haunting tone; Jeanette Winterson’s Atlantic Crossing is a tale of fleeting moments and missed opportunities. It has a dry humour, but it is a perceptive and sad story. My Son the Hero by Clare Boylan is chilling and gripping in its quiet way, while Rachel Seiffert’s Field Study is another quiet and lasting story which I enjoyed.
Alison MacLeod’s The Heart of Denis Noble is a human story exploring love, what it means, and where it comes from; The Turtle by Roshi Fernando is a lovely, real story which is fraught with tension. Even Pretty Eyes Commit Crimes by M. J. Hyland is the story of a father and son’s relationship – another quiet and understated story which is touching and poignant. The collection closes with Avril Joy’s Millie and Bird which is a clever story, ending the book on a strong and memorable note.
Overall I enjoyed this collection and would be interested in exploring the other two parts. While all of the stories share the theme of love, it is a varied collection that offers something for everyone. What I enjoyed most about reading this book was the fact that it introduced me to authors whose work I hadn’t read before and am now keen to discover.
Have you read this particular collection or the others in the series? Have you read any of the short stories I mentioned?