Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

"A snow garden and other stories" by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday, 2015)

I was going to give the book up while reading the first story, 'A Faraway Smell of Lemon', until the improvement in the final few pages tempted me to read on. I thought the style ponderous and the characterization shallow.

And then a new thought had come to her, a real thorn. What if the mobile was not lost. What if he and Sally were lying in bed, clinging to one another like beautiful weeds, choosing not to answer? In Binny's mind the couple sent her a closed-off smile (p.34)

"The Marriage Manual" was rather better. Again, there were stock characters and a long set-up. The flare-up's unconvincing (is she having a minor stroke?) until the magic realism element appears, showing everything falling apart. Again the treatment of the plot's heavy-handed (without compensation) - that we create and repeat narratives to sustain ourselves, though the narratives may be false and difficult to change. "The truth was, there were no instructions when you got married" it says on p.75 but we don't know if they're the characters' words or the narrator's. I liked the ending, which draws further away from realism.

"Christmas Day at the Airport" begins better than the earlier stories did, but once a donkey and 3 members of the King family (one reading an astrology book) enter the story about gift-shops and a pregnant women (married to Jo) in an airport, readers can guess much of the rest. It reads like a commissioned, indulgent, over-long bit of fun.

"The Boxing Day Ball" is set in 1962. The mother-daughter relationship might have become interesting. Maureen's life-changing moment just happens.

"A Snow Garden" doesn't work for me. I guess it didn't help that I've already read a poem about such a garden, so I anticipated the plot.

"I'll be home for Christmas" isn't mentioned on the Contents page. I can understand why. p.191 of it is ok.

I found "Trees" the most interesting story of the book, though the ending fell rather flat

A story only made complete sense when it was over, when you could look back and say, this happened and then that happened and so this where it ended. Oliver's story was not over, it was still happening, and the night he planted the trees was just a new twist. He could learn from it or ignore it. The choice was his.
Oliver drove, like everyone else, towards another year. Towards whoever and whatever he would meet next.

Other reviews

  • booksandthings (My favourite stories were definitely ‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’ and ‘Christmas Day at the Airport’)
  • goodreads

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