Author: Kirsty Logan
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Date: March 2014
Format: Paperback (143 pages)
Synopsis: Twenty tales of lust and loss. These stories feature clockwork hearts, lascivious queens, paper men, island circuses, and a flooded world.
On the island of Skye, an antlered girl and a tiger-tailed boy resolve never to be friends – but can they resist their unique connection? In an alternative 19th-century Paris, a love triangle emerges between a man, a woman, and a coin-operated boy. A teenager deals with his sister’s death by escaping from their tiny Scottish island – but will she let him leave? In 1920s New Orleans, a young girl comes of age in her mother’s brothel.
Some of these stories are radical retellings of classic tales, some are modern-day fables, but all explore substitutions for love.
I’ve had this little volume sitting on my shelf for a few months now since I bought it at the Borders Book Festival in June. I went to a talk by Kirsty about her novel The Gracekeepers, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I decided to see what her short story collection was like.
I don’t often read short stories because I prefer to spend a lot of time with characters (this is also the reason I prefer TV series over films), but these stories were written so skilfully that I was drawn in straight away and felt like I understood the feelings and motivations of the characters even after only a few pages with them. Each story was unique and so well developed that it was like taking a short stroll through 20 different worlds, each of which could easily be developed into a full length novel.
These stories are odd, moving, uncomfortable, erotic, and, above all, imaginative. Kirsty is a very talented writer. Her imagination clearly knows no bounds and it seems that she can draw together any number of random elements and weave them into an interesting story. Her words are so descriptive and vivid and I really like that she doesn’t shy away from phrases that might make some people uncomfortable, like this passage from the story ‘Underskirts’:
‘Oh, how I have loved. My nights are viscous, lucid, spilling over. My finger pads hum … the meat of my eyes is speckled with gold; gold dust blows across my cheeks. The girls, the girls and their love. No need for sleep when their saliva is sustenance. Their sweet country cunts and their kiss.’*
*I know that some bloggers would have given forewarning of the use of potentially offensive language here, but since Kirsty embraces it and it’s important to the story, I decided not to.
Some of the stories were creative interpretations of familiar fairy tales, like ‘Tiger Palace’, where the beast of Beauty and the Beast is recast as a woman desperate to gain her freedom from a curse, only to find happiness with the unlikeliest of companions. Others were very unusual tales, like ‘The Light Eater’ which features a woman who consumes light bulbs that she later spits out to form a path for her lover to find her again. There were a few that seemed quite ordinary at first, but had unexpected elements, like ‘Una and Coll are not Friends’, a seemingly ordinary tale of adolescent conflict and supressed desire between a boy with a tiger’s tale and a girl with antlers on her head.
This book has everything you could want from a short story collection: creativity, imagination, beautifully descriptive phrasing, honest exploration of a variety of themes, and time in the company of a multitude of intriguing and well-crafted characters. I would highly recommend it.
Overall Rating: My bookworm rating system is explained here.
Other Works by this Author: Kirsty has also written The Gracekeepers, a novel which further explores the world we briefly visit in one of The Rental Heart stories, (‘The Gracekeeper’), and another short story collection called A Portable Shelter. I haven’t read that one yet, but I would highly recommend The Gracekeepers.