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.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

"Aphrodrite's Hat" by Salley Vickers (Fourth Estate, 2011)

The endings are generally interesting, but the setting up can be slow. In "Join me for Christmas" the beginning's so ponderous that the ending had to be surprising, and hence was easily guessed. The writing can be verbose, "telling" rather than (or as well as) "showing" at the crucial moments -

  • Emily knew from this that change was called for. 'This won't do,' she said sternly to herself (p.20)
  • 'Mum never let me swear.'
    It wasn't true. But he felt a weird obligation to assert a spurious vigilance on his mother's part, to distance her from this discovered act of treachery. For more years than he could bear to calculate, he had longed for some token from his father. The news that this had been denied him, deliberately withheld, prompted a general defensiveness.
  • Another 'reason' for loving James was that he was quick. He didn't say much but his understanding was as swift as mine, so he didn't now say, as most men would, 'Who?' or 'Whose hat?' Although he had made no comment on the painting we had looked at that morning together he knew at once who I meant (p.82)
  • he behaved with overt kindness towards Luke, and Luke, unused to receiving the love of more than one parent, prospered. To Laura's surprise it was Nellie who was the fly in the ointment of their new life. For, gradually she became aware, the bitter truth was that Nellie and Simon did not get on. Used to the customary daily friction between Terence and Luke, Laura was lulled at first into a false sense of the success of her enterprise when she saw the way Simon responded to her son (p.170)

I'm not sure that she's entirely in control of the lower levels of language.

  • Idiom usage seems unconscious. That final quote for example contains several in a bunch.
  • Would Charlie's father in "Epiphany" really say "Was is the operative word."?
  • When mental states are described, the same non-character-specific style is used.
  • The narrator sometimes slips the odd phrase into a story. In the 3rd person story "Pruning" there's "The charm, as charm generally is, was ephemeral" (p.88). In "The Green Bus from St Ives" there's "he felt, as old recidivists are said to feel, nostalgic for familiar constraints" (p.114). In p.258 there's "They had waited; but as anyone who has been in this situation discovers, children are never 'old enough' for their parents to split up safely".

Not infrequently at the end of a story I wondered what there was in the story that made the author persist in writing it. "Pruning" for example has an inconsequential plot. At the end one person's therapeutic pruning parallels another's - so what? "The Deal" has a more jaunty narrative style, presumably leakage as a consequence of the main (albeit 3rd-person) character being a child. The child's only six though. I liked "Troubles" the most - it has a main character who suits the narrative voice, and an interesting plot. As in many of the other stories, wife and husband don't seem very close. Little is at stake when affairs are suggested.

Other reviews

  • Frank Cottrell Boyce (Vickers's first collection proves beyond doubt that she's a really good writer)
  • Michael Arditti (Vickers repeatedly employs artworks as a plot device, backdrop or metaphor, and sometimes all three ... Although a couple of the stories are duds and a couple more are predictable in their unpredictability, the collection is shot through with a gentle wit and a winning charm)
  • Pauline Masurel
  • William Palmer (The stories are filled with women who are not sure why they married their husbands and husbands who have run out of anything to say to their wives)
  • Brandon Robshaw (The stories in Aphrodite's Hat are so light, the characters so interesting, the situations so immediately appealing that you can devour them one after the other, like crisps

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