As many of you probably know, I am not a lover of short stories. I prefer to get my teeth into a tale, to get to know the characters, the settings etc and most short stories don't have time to do this (unless you read some of Trollope's all of which are practically a novella) and I am left feeling a bit short changed. I am told by those in the know that the art of writing a short story is only granted to a few, that it is harder to write than a novel and the craftsmanship involved is difficult. Well, yes I agree and some time ago I wrote about short stories for another blog and surprised myself at just how many I had read, but and it is a big but, I really hate stories that are described as 'exquisite', 'enchanting' 'a beautiful vignette', 'haunting' and worst of all 'eclectic'. This is a word I like to use myself but have cut back on its use on Random as it generally appears nowadays in mags such as Ideal Home and House and Garden to discuss somebody's style (quirky and vintage are another two bugbears but will save those for a Rant Day) and is now in danger of over use.
However, it is very very difficult not to use 'quirky or 'eclectic' when reading Diving Belles by Lucy Wood. Of course I could say weird and odd and off the wall and also a bit creepy to describe this collection which Bloomsbury very kindly sent to me. And in case you are wondering why I am reading short stories if I dislike them so much, is because I simply could not read a full length book while my head was feeling as if it was stuffed with cotton wool as it has been for the last ten days. I do hope that this does not give the impression that I am treating this collection with less attention than it deserves, not so, but it just happened to fit in with my attention span. I have dipped in an out of these stories from Lucy Wood - this is a debut book I gather and the author certainly has a vivid imagination. The title story, Diving Belles sets the tone. 'Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee'. Ivy's husband strayed many years ago and now she has discovered that a local firm will drop you in a diving belle down into the sea to find missing husbands. So she decided to try it.
"Salt and spray leapt up to meet the bell as it slapped into the sea. Cold dark water surged upwards and Iris lifted her feet, waiting for the air pressure in the bell to level off the water underneath her footwear"
Close your eyes and picture an old fashioned diving belle, the kind one would find in a Jules Verne or HG Wells story and you will find yourself feeling rather creepy at the thought of Iris descending into the murky depths of the ocean straining her eyes thought the portholes in the hope of seeing her long gone husband. Imagine the cold and the dark and the smells and sounds of the sea all around her. Scary.
"Then he was there. He broke away from the group and drifted through the wreck like a pale shaft of light......no one had told her that he would be young. At no point had she thought he would be like this, unchanged since they'd gone to sleep that night all those years before....he swam closer and she leaned back on the bench and held her breath suddenly not wanting him to see her"
And of course, this is the sad part - he had remained young and beautiful and she had aged "She felt tired and uncomfortable...she wanted tea and a hot water bottle"
A melancholy little story and and laden with atmosphere. This sets the tone for the rest of the collection, all of the stories slightly off the wall and, yes, quirky. I cannot say that I loved them, not sure that the reader is supposed to, and they left me feeling a bit shivery and I made sure the curtains were drawn and nobody could get in, but their oddness and freshness certainly are the products of an author with a perceptive eye.
Do read them and if you do, let me know what you think. I loathe cliches but can only find one way of describing my reading of Diving Belles, I was out of my 'comfort zone' and that is not a bad thing.
Thus endeth my first book review of 2012.