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, 16 August 2017

"Taking Pictures" by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape, 2008)

Stories from New Yorker, Granta, Paris Review, etc. They're 10-15 pages long, except for "Wife" which is about 5, and "Green" which is about 7 pages. Frequent features are sexy men, big-framed men, bunches of tissues, and women (especially mothers) dying of cancer.

Even when I didn't especially like a story as a whole, there are usually interesting aspects or passages - e.g. "it was a joke of an asylum, looming and Victorian, people muttering a whining in the bare wards, and a smell everywhere of bleach and sperm that was like your own madness, not theirs" (p.10).

I wasn't keen on "In the Bed Department" (though it's interesting how centrally the lift and its hidden mechanism features), "Natalie", "Switzerland" (which ends well though - "They gave him the sofa to sleep on, so Elaine crept downstairs in the middle of the night and they had the quietest sex known to mankind. They inched their way along the floor and ended up under the table where, looking up, Elaine saw a crayoned boat she had drawn, one endlessly idle afternoon, when she was nine or ten. A green boat with a blue sail. Her own secret sign./ Where do you want to go? he said. Where do you want to go, now?" (p.113)), "Green" and "Shaft". The main character in "Honey" behaves in an unconvincing way. "Taking Pictures" isn't entirely successful either. The last page of "Little Sister" redeems it. "Until the girl died" has little going for it until the ending.

"Caravan" is the kind of story I write sometimes, though I can't get them published. A couple with two young kids survive a rainy caravan holiday packed with little crises. The mother sees a ghost (of herself, perhaps). The ending of "The Cruise" doesn't save it, though it's close. "Wife" mostly works - a husband is seen with daughter, wife, mother and female shop-keeper, thinking about an 11-year old long ago.

"The Bad Sex Weekend" is good - "That was Sligo. A place where it rained all day and the rent-boys hung out for the blokes down from Northern Ireland, and they called a housing estate after W.B.Yeats, and you could rot, or you could run" (p.69). "Yesterday's Weather" is more of an ensemble piece, mentioning many people at a family party. I liked it - "She had planted the bulbs the week they got the keys: kneeling on the front path, seven months' pregnant, digging with the little shovel from the fire-irons; a straight line from the gate to the door of fat, red tulips, the type you get in a park - 'a bit municipal', as her mother had said, squinting at the pack - that were now flaming red at the tips, like little cups of green fire" (p.143). The flowers reappear near the end. In "Della" a woman hears a blind old man struggling next door. She's never liked him. She's struggling too with age. His noises gradually become a greater part of her life. Finally she knocks on his door. It's good.

Other reviews

  • Hermione Lee (Parents, in story after story, are ill, must be cared for, die, are buried, are lost for ever - their endings told with a breathtaking mixture of dryness and depth)
  • Stephanie Merritt
  • Katy Guest (The collection is haunted, by dead mothers, missing sisters and religious guilt. But among the ghosts and smells and screams that saturate life, there are unexpected opportunities for joy.)
  • Sheila Cornelius (With one exception, the narrators in these nineteen stories are female and for the most part lower-middle-class)
  • bookbag (Definite highlights are Pale hands I loved, beside the Shalamar about one woman's affair with her childhood sweetheart who was also mentally disabled and Until the Girl Died)

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