Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Short Story Collections

I have decided to take a look at a few short story collections I have had in the pile for some time (having only read a couple of stories from them previously).

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.


Blogger Sue Guiney said...

Two excellent choices! Now on to Tania Hershman's The White Road, which I think would be right up your alley...though you probably read it already.

Wed Sep 14, 09:23:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, I have Sue - I did that blog tour for her.

Wed Sep 14, 10:47:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

...and you're right! Vanessa Gebbie's work reminds me a lot of Tania Hershman's. (I'd said that before though, so I thought I wouldn't repeat myself.) :-)

Wed Sep 14, 10:55:00 am  
Blogger jem said...

I struggle with short stories but I enjoyed that Salway collection too! I read Winterson's 'The World and Other Places' recently and loved it. I also just finished the last of those Ox-Tales which I heard about from you a while back - some top stories in each, but sadly also some extracts of Works in Progress which don't stand up that well disembodied from the whole.

Wed Sep 14, 03:38:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thank you Jem! I have not read enough Winterson, so that sounds like one I shall have to get.

Strange, I was just dipping into the Earth Ox-tales this afternoon, having seen it was one you particularly recommended. I agree completely about the Work In Progress!

Wed Sep 14, 04:03:00 pm  
Blogger Vanessa Gebbie said...

Ooo how lovely.
Thank you so much for reading, and for writing about 'Bubble'. There's really no nicer comment than Tanias and my work echoes. We are both moved by similar things, I think, and I love her unique mix of science and story.

And Leading the Dance is a very special collection - its so nice to be in the same article!

By the way - My sister in law says she met you and bought two of your novels... is that right?

Thu Sep 15, 09:54:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

My pleasure, Vanessa. I like reading a bit of magic.

If your sister-in-law has bought two of my novels I feel very honoured. Where was that?

Thu Sep 15, 10:21:00 pm  
Blogger Vanessa Gebbie said...

Did you do a reading near London earlier this year?

Thu Sep 15, 10:25:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I did one in the London Welsh Centre on the Gray's Inn Road in January. Is she Welsh?

Thu Sep 15, 10:31:00 pm  
Blogger Vanessa Gebbie said...

Slightly - hmm. 'Strange,' said Alice....

Thu Sep 15, 10:35:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yup, everything is connected. When the spider taps her web we all bounce.

Thu Sep 15, 10:43:00 pm  

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