Short Story Collections
The first one I picked up was Words from a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie (published by Salt Books). I particularly like the cover of this one and reminds me of the StartRite shoe logo from when I was a child. The stories inside turned out to be just as appealing, with a subtle fantastical feel about them. Several were strongly Welsh, whereas others were set in a run-down English coastal resort.
Vanessa Gebbie is particularly good at evoking the voice of the poor, ill-educated and disadvantaged. Inside these pages are drug addicts, orphans, and men and women who have lost something: a child, a lover, a wife, their virginity, and once, most memorably, the entire contents of a digestive tract.
Most of the stories have dramatic revelations at the end, and there is something in the style that reminded me of Angela Carter and, once or twice, Dylan Thomas. The pervasive themes are isolation and detachment which lead to the fantastical feel described above. My particular favourites are 'The Cactus Man', 'The Kettle on the Boat' and 'Harry's Catch'. They are intensely moving but without being at all mawkish.
The second one was Leading the Dance by Sarah Salway (published by BlueChrome Books). This is another strong collection. The stories are quirky and witty and hugely enjoyable. I started making a list of the ones I thought were particularly brilliant, but in the end found I'd put down most of them. They tended to be about the fragility of human relationships, and although there are sometimes twists and revelations this is not the main point.
I think the reason I found them so addictively readable is that they explore what makes us all human. I suppose the ones I found most memorable are 'The Fabulous Button Sisters' (about infatuation), 'Keeping the Rules' (a particularly convincing inhibited male viewpoint) and 'Leading the Dance' (a subtle study on control) but they were all excellent. Some of the writing reminded me of Alan Bennett's, and some of Anne Tyler's. I highly recommend both collections.