What’s Beachcombing all about?:
Beachcombing explores the relationship between a grandmother and her grandson, the former having lived in a cave by the sea for a while now and has no plans on leaving any time soon.
What did I think?:
I think I was expecting great things from this short story purely based on the others I have read in the collection. Lucy Wood’s beautiful way with language and characters combines stories of ordinary, mundane daily life with a little bit of magic to create prose that you can’t help but admire. The stories are often steeped in Cornish folklore/legends and I’m thoroughly enjoying learning about mythological creatures or superstitions that I was previously unaware of. In Beachcombing, the other-worldly creature(s) are the buccas, a spirit that roams coastal towns and becomes something akin to a hobgoblin during storms, wreaking havoc and causing mayhem.
The two main characters in this story are Oscar and his grandmother whose home is in a cave on a beach where she moved for reasons unknown at the beginning of this tale. Oscar and his grandmother have a very special relationship which was very touching and made me smile. At times, they drive each other crazy but they clearly have a great affection for each other and are always looking out for the others welfare. One of their favourite things to do is to roam the beach looking for treasures that the sea has brought up with the waves. It is apparent that Grandma seems to be always looking for something else, something she may have lost and Oscar is always keen to show her his daily findings. She is the one who first teaches him about the buccas and we learn that on a stormy night, it is crucial to appease them by leaving a fish on the shore, something that she forgot to do one particular night. There were consequences because of her lapse that led to her immediately packing up essential items and moving into a cave on the beach, despite the protests of Oscar’s mother and father who have a place for her to stay in their own “normal,” home.
The story is divided into a number of small sections that covers both Oscar’s relationship with his grandmother, their little rituals when he comes to stay and describes the findings on the beach that have particular importance to them. All apart from one that is, which Oscar tries desperately to hide. I was under the impression at first that he was hiding his treasure simply because he wanted to keep it to himself, in the way that some young children may do. It turns out that it was a form of protection because when Grandma’s curiosity gets the better of her and she raids his hiding place, she becomes very upset and this in turn upsets Oscar. I was also unsure what to make of the ending of this tale, as with previous stories in this collection it is ambiguous but funnily enough, on a second reading of Beachcombing, I found it quite bitter-sweet and, thinking about it in retrospect, it was the perfect ending for a story like this.
It was only on a second reading of this story that I began to appreciate what a little gem it really is. Strangely enough, it was only on the second time round that I understood the incident that caused Grandma to uproot and live in the cave and once I had realised that, all the other pieces seemed to slot into place. I loved both Grandma and Oscar as characters, their relationship felt so authentic and even though they would clash sometimes, they loved each other deeply which made it a beautiful partnership to read about. This is such a clever story that once understood makes you think deeply about love and loss. For me, the icing on the cake was the introduction of the buccas, intriguing and occasionally malevolent little beings which immediately made me want to go and read up everything I could find on them! Lucy Wood has a wonderful talent for combining a bit of legend with contemporary life and her stories are all the stronger for it.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop
A bucca, also known as a knacker, knocker, bwca or tommyknocker in Welsh, Cornish and Devon folklore, the equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English/Scottish brownies.
Image from http://www.ovguide.com/knocker-9202a8c04000641f80000000005c1b67