The White Snake
I’m trying to be as diverse as possible with my choices of story but am still at the stage of working through the bookshelves at home. In my search, I came across a Wordsworth Classics edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (by German brother’s Jacob and Wilhelm) and translated by Lucy Crane, with illustrations by Walter Crane.
I chose The White Snake as it wasn’t one of the tales I immediately remembered, and I’m still not sure I ever read it as a child, although that seems unlikely as we had Grimm’s Fairy Tales read aloud regularly as bedtime stories. It follows the usual Grimm format .. .. good, evil, a happy ending, not always without collateral damage en route, with a good dose of morality thrown in for good measure. Oh, and then there’s the fickle princess who is swayed into loving the hero, only once he’s succeeded in completing three impossible challenges.
Of course, it was impossible to stop at one, so I took my comfort in the beautifully familiar tale of Hansel and Grethel, a story I read myself many, many times as a child, and I found myself as incredulous now as I was then, at the idea that anyone would leave the children in a wood, or indeed, that there could be a house made of such good things to eat.
You can read The White Snake here and Hansel and Grethel here
Leading the Dance
He is everything a partner and father shouldn’t be. She is trapped inside a relationship based on control. There’s nothing ‘merry’ about begin led in this dance.
Leading the Dance is the title story of Sarah Salway’s 2006 collection published by Bluechrome. Sarah writes novels, short stories and poetry and teaches creative writing. For more information about her work click here
The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets
Tamsin works in a hotel laundry. She used to work for a literature festival. She has a secret and so, she believes, does Ian Prudhoe but getting him to share it proves more difficult than she’d thought it would.
The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets is from Sophie Hannah’s first collection of short stories of the same name (2008). Sophie is well-known for her poetry and her novels
More about Sophie Hannah can be found here
Sunday at Home
I was an avid radar of Stevie Smith’s poetry for a short while as a young adult, having sourced a thick volume from the local library. Lodged within the filing cabinet of my mind are snippets of information – she wore her hair in a shortish bob, she attempted suicide, she wrote poems about death and that they felt terribly modern. I returned the library book eventually and have dipped in and out of her poems over the years. I had never read any of her short stories until now.
The Secret Self /2 Short Stories by Women collection is clearly a good source and I don’t recall having read Sunday at Home previously, although I may well have done so.
It’s a slightly strange story, and I finished it with mixed emotions. As with her poetry there is a preoccupation with death, but mostly the story seems to be a portrait of a marriage between two floundering and damaged people.
There are some original recordings of Stevie Smith reading her poetry on You Tube and a clip from the film Stevie (1978) with Glenda Jackson.
What I Have Been Doing Lately
Today’s choice is taken from a collection I’ve had on my bookshelf since 1987. This I know, because as I opened its pages a postcard from my good friend K fell out. The smudged, ink message read as follows
” Happy Birthday W. Hope you enjoy this book – it looks quite readable – if nothing else it’ll fill up the Habitat bookshelves. By the way I don’t know what happened to ‘The Secret Self mark 1, but if I ever find out you’ll get it for Christmas.”
What a delight to find a little bit off my personal history tucked safely inside The Secret Self/2 Short Stories by Women. The collection was selected and introduced by Hermione Lee. So this is what I was reading thirty years ago in between dealing with a new home, a young child and work. I double whether I would have picked it off the bookshelf if it hadn’t been for One a Day. Never did track down Mark 1, but then the internet wasn’t available back then.
As for the story … What I Have Been Doing Lately, is an account of what the narrator as been doing lately, seen through a dreamlike state and written as a stream of consciousness.
There is a PDF of the story available but I’ve been unable to paste the link.
Caro at the Pool
The title sounds like something out of a Hockney painting, the story itself is a brief sketch, very visual – I can see the drawing panning out in front of my eyes. So it was no surprise, when I searched for the story title on line, and came across an interview mentioning Carol at the Pool, to find that Wigfall had an early interest in becoming an artist. She sums up what the essence of the story is in that interview
‘In fact, I remember with “Caro” I was consciously thinking about the drawings I’d made as a very small child, the clarity and confidence with which I used line. I wanted to write a story like that, something pared down, close to a sketch on a page (it can actually fit on one side of A4), that would capture the essence of what it was like ……’
I’ve cut the quotation short in order to avoid spoilers as it’s really important to know nothing about this story before you start reading. First impressions are key.
I found Caro in the Pool in The Loudest Sound and Nothing (2007), Wigfall’s debut collection of short stories. The Story was first published in the Daily Expres in 2001.
Pocket sized Dickens
Read The Lamplighter here
The White Road
I don’t recall who it was recommended Tania Hershman’s short stories to me, but the her collection The White Road and other Stories (2008) has been sitting on my shelf, largely unread, probably since 2008. I suspect I bought it at a book event of some sort, and whilst I haven’t deliberately avoided reading it, I haven’t given it my full attention either. `i’m not sure why but it could have something to do with the cover design – fickle, I know, but it doesn’t invite one in.
Set in a cold, cold climate where all is bight white, the collection’s title story deals with horror and loss, and with acceptance.
A Temporary Matter
A story about love, loss and tragedy. Beautiful prose, delicately dealing with difficult issues. Jhumpa Lahiri’s gentle but penetrating prose, invites you in to Shoba and Shukumar’s lives . You feel as if you are intruding into their sadness, wishing to you could put things right but being able to do nothing more than feel some of their loss.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s story A Temporary Matter is included in her 1999 collection entitled Interpreter of Maladies. You can also find it online here but better still to get the collection if you can.
An Indiscreet Journey
Another woman going to meet a lover, but a very different story to Claire Keegan’s Antarctica chosen yesterday. Modernist in style and seemingly loose in its structure, we are given a glimpse into the narrator’s world as she journeys by train to the front line in First World War France to meet The Little Colonel, who we assume is her lover (Mansfield herself made a similar visit). Knowing this, there is a sense that Mansfield is committing her motorise to paper and the story is no worse for that. The detail feels authentic, even without the spattering of French, and we are left wanting to sip first whisky and then mirabelle to decide for ourselves which is the better taste.
I especially like the passage where the old lady who sits opposite the narrator on the train reads a letter
‘In her fat hands, adorned with a wedding ring and two mourning rings, she held a letter. Slowly, slowly she sipped a sentence and then looked up and out of the window, her lips trembling a little, and then another sentence, and again the old face turned to the light, tasting it ….’
I read this story in the Katherine Mansfield Selected Stories, Oxford World’s Classics, 2002.
Alternatively you can access it on-line here