Short Stories Challenge

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Underhouse by Gerard Woodward from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published August 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Underhouse all about?:

The Underhouse follows an odd gentleman who decides to remodel his house in an upside down fashion.

What did I think?:

I’ve mentioned before that one of the reasons I love short story collections that feature multiple authors is that I get to read work from an author I’ve never heard of before. Gerard Woodward was another one of those authors for me. On doing a little bit of research on him, I can’t believe his work has passed me by. He is probably most famous for his trilogy of novels that followed a troubled family, the second of which – I’ll Go To Bed At Noon was short-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. He is also a prolific poet, his first collection being published in the late eighties and his most recent, The Seacunny in 2012. The Underhouse is one of the shorter stories in this collection as as a result, I don’t have a whole lot to say about it except that it’s perfectly obvious that Woodward has a talent for sucking the reader into his world in a very short space of time.

Gerard Woodward, author of The Underhouse.

This story follows our unnamed narrator who becomes obsessed with a peculiar aspect of his house. At first, he wants to make his cellar and the room above (the sitting room) exactly the same height so he lowers the cellar floor to make this just right. This isn’t quite good enough and he then becomes fixated on making the cellar an exact replica of the room above i.e. the same furniture, curtains, light fixtures and fittings BUT (and here’s the twist) as an “upside down” version so the cellar looks like an exact mirror image of the room above. He goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure everything matches exactly and is delighted with the eventual outcome. However, you might be wondering why this story is in a collection entitled The New Uncanny? Well, he uses this strange gravity-defying room to deliberately unnerve other people, making them feel quite uncomfortable and uneasy in this abnormal, incredibly unique setting.

Well, this was an odd little tale! I liked the imaginative idea behind it and have to admit I was wondering how it was going to become “uncanny.” In the end, I found what our narrator did quite unnerving but perhaps not as disturbing as I was expecting. It’s certainly a strange situation to find yourself in and even that picture is making me feel a bit ill just looking at it so I can imagine if I was placed in those circumstances, it would probably have the desired effect on me! I don’t really have any strong criticism or feelings towards the story either way, I enjoyed the writing style and appreciated what the author was trying to do but I couldn’t help but wish it had been a bit longer so that the narrator had a bit more of a chance to tell the reader how exactly he was using the room for his own devious plans.

However, I would definitely check out Gerard Woodward’s work in the future as he’s clearly an intriguing writer with a plethora of interesting ideas.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Published July 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Bloody Chamber all about?:

This story follows our female narrator as she marries a wealthy French Marquis and discovers the secrets lurking in his castle.

What did I think?:

Full disclosure, I have already reviewed The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories by Angela Carter some time ago on my blog however when I realised the title story of that collection was the next story in Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women I jumped at the chance to review it individually and in more detail. I have a lingering memory of the events in this little tale and in fact, it remains so far my very favourite Angela Carter short story so as you can imagine, I can already highly recommend it. Angela Carter never fails to blow me away with her proficiency of the English language and her stark, poetic choice of words and phrases. Re-reading this story gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy her talent even more as I already knew how it was all going to play out in the end. I could simply sit back and just enjoy a true master at work.

Angela Carter, author of The Bloody Chamber
From the Fay Godwin Archive at the British Library

The Bloody Chamber, like the rest of the stories in the collection of the same name is based on an old fairy-tale but I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly tell you which one. It would give away simply far too many details! I can tell you it involves a seventeen year old girl who marries a rich man and is spirited away to his castle to begin married life. She has her doubts about her new husband, particularly when she finds out he has been married three times before but he is prepared to give her everything she could ever dream of, including a grand piano on which she can indulge her one obsession, playing music. It’s not long however, as she explores the castle when her husband is away on business that she discovers his greatest secret and everything from here on will never be the same again.

I have to admit, this story does start off a little slow. It’s one of Angela Carter’s longer works of short fiction I’ve experienced so far and it takes a while to set the scene with our heroine mainly describing her relationship with her mother, nurse and the beginnings of the relationship with her husband to be. We get a sense of a very naive, innocent young girl at first who then quickly realises the ways of the world when she comes across some pornographic images in her husband’s library on first entering the castle. It’s not until this point that the story really starts to kick into gear and the reader begins to understand the kind of situation that our protagonist may have entered into.

As always, Angela Carter’s writing is nothing short of exquisite and each word appears to have been lusciously chosen to illustrate impending doom and the hopelessness of our main character’s mood. From the choker of rubies round the young wife’s neck to the way she describes her husband i.e. comparing him to a lily and wearing a mask that she wishes she could remove so she could see the real man underneath, everything is told in such glorious detail it’s an absolute pleasure to experience and makes for an shocking, unforgettable story. I do understand that some people might not gel with Carter’s style, particularly if you’re not a fan of magical realism but if you haven’t read any of the author’s work before this is one of the most perfect places to start. It’s a shining example of her writing, it’s not too “out there” or quirky and it’s immensely readable.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Underhouse by Gerard Woodward from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Book Tag – Shelfie by Shelfie #8

Published July 10, 2018 by bibliobeth

Image edited from: <a href=”http://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/frame”>Frame image created by Jannoon028 – Freepik.com</a>

Hi everyone and welcome to a brand new tag – Shelfie by Shelfie that I was inspired to create late one night when I couldn’t sleep. If you want to join in, you share a picture (or “shelfie”) of one of your shelves i.e. favourites, TBR, however you like to organise them, and then answer ten questions that are based around that particular shelf. I have quite a large collection and am going to do every single bookshelf which comprises both my huge TBR and the books I’ve read and kept but please, don’t feel obliged to do every shelf yourself if you fancy doing this tag. I’d love to see anything and just a snapshot of your collection would be terrific and I’m sure, really interesting for other people to see!

Here are the other Shelfies I’ve done: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

Anyway – on with the tag, here is the fifth shelf of my first bookshelf (I’ve chosen to split it up into two separate shelfies because of the sheer number of books, oops!). Here is the front shelf and we’re looking at the middle part of this image.

And here are the questions!:

1.) Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?

Finally we have a bit of organisation on my shelves! Just a little bit though, I didn’t want to go too mad…haha! This shelf has a couple of miscellaneous books at the far left and horizontally but generally we have a few books by Zoe Marriott (which I haven’t read yet, surprise surprise!). Then the rest of the shelf is all of my short stories collections which are either in use or lying in wait for my Short Stories Challenge.

2.) Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you i.e. how you got it/ a memory associated with it etc.

I don’t have too many strong memories associated with books on this shelf but I’m going to mention 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. Anyone who has followed my blog for a while or knows me well is aware that I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve only started getting into his son, Joe Hill’s writing recently and this was one of the first books that I bought of his. It’s currently active in my Short Stories Challenge – I think I’ve read two of the stories so far?

3.) Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

Sigh. I’m afraid I have a definite book in mind for this. It’s again another book active in my Short Stories Challenge, the collection by Helen Oyeyemi called What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. I’ve only read one of the stories in the collection so far – Books And Roses but unfortunately I really wasn’t impressed and I was so disappointed, I’ve heard such wonderful things about her writing! I am definitely going to carry on with the collection for now but if I had to, that’s the book I would ditch.

4.) Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

Purely for the cover alone it would be Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. Look at it – it’s just gorgeous!!

5.) Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

I think that would be The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw. I just haven’t managed to get round to it yet but it’s on the front shelf to remind me of its existence. Apparently!

6.) Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

The newest addition and one I hope to read VERY soon (who am I kidding?!) is When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy. It was short-listed for The Women’s Prize For Fiction this year and I’ve heard such amazing things.

7.) Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog and I’ll probably mention it again before I blinking get round to reading it!! (*eye roll*).

8.) If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

There’s no room for any object on this shelf unfortunately, it’s double stacked as a lot of my shelves are!

9.) What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

Like other shelfies I’ve done, I think it demonstrates the variety of genres I enjoy although because I decided to be organised with this shelf, it says that I enjoy a short story or two!

10.) Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

I won’t tag anyone but if anyone wants to do this tag, I’d be delighted and I’d love to see your shelfie.

For other Shelfie by Shelfies round the blogosphere, please see:

Chrissi @ Chrissi Reads FAVOURITES shelfie HERE and her Shelfie by Shelfie 2 HERE.

Sarah @ The Aroma Of Books Shelfie 1A, 1B, 1C 1D

Dee @ Dees Rad Reads And Reviews Shelfie HERE

Jacquie @ Rattle The Stars Shelfie HERE

Stuart @ Always Trust In Books Shelfie #1 HERE.

Thank you so much to Chrissi, Sarah, Dee, Jacquie and Stuart for participating in Shelfie by Shelfie, it really means the world to me. Hugs!

If you’ve done this tag, please let me know and I’d be happy to add you to Shelfie by Shelfies round the blogosphere!

COMING SOON on bibliobeth : Shelfie by Shelfie #9

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Published July 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This all about?:

This story follows a wandering story teller as he takes a couple of tourists on a tour around his local area, telling old stories along the way.

What did I think?:

As the final story in this collection, I have to admit I was expecting something quite majestic. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite end on the note I was anticipating – rather than Notes From The House Spirits which I thoroughly enjoyed, I found myself rather underwhelmed by the story chosen to be the finale of the entire collection. Of course, there is no denying the magical, whimsical nature of Lucy Wood’s writing and as always, I appreciated the nod to Cornish folklore and her ability to spout words like poetry but compared to other stories I’ve read by her, this was rather a damp squib in comparison.

Lucy Wood, author of the short story collection Diving Belles.

Due to the quirky nature of Lucy’s writing, I’m struggling to describe what exactly this story is about in more than a few sentences but I’ll try my best. It follows a droll (Cornish word for a travelling story teller), who comes across two tourists willing to pay him for a tour and to tell stories along the way – old legends, ghostly happenings and the like. As he’s often homeless and uncertain of where his next meal is coming from, he gladly agrees but during the tour he begins to realise something is seriously wrong. Although he is suggested to have one hundred years experience of the town, its people and its tall tales, he can’t seem to remember any of the stories he once knew so well in any great detail. Images keep coming to his mind of things that might have happened, some of them horrific (or are they just stories?) and he appears to be getting quite befuddled about how much of his knowledge is fact and how much is fiction.

Beautiful Cornwall, the inspiration and setting for the stories in this collection.

So, I finished the story about ten minutes ago and knew I’d have to write my review immediately as I would lose track of what it was actually about. Not much more goes on than what I told you and to be perfectly honest, the ending was so abrupt, I’m finding it difficult to recall what actually happened. Lucy Wood has a bit of a pattern with ending her stories quite suddenly, often without resolution or answers and most of the time, I find this works really well but there’s other times where you just wonder what the whole point was in the first place.

This story isn’t bad, by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve certainly read a lot worse and I must stress that the writing is truly beautiful. I loved the way that the droll is compared to a tree, even his skin beginning to resemble the furrows of wood and later on, he finds moss in his fingernails which also harks back to the symbolism of a tree. Is he really as old as he is? Who knows? There’s a lot of magical realism thematically throughout this collection and it’s quite conceivable that he could be a different entity that has known a man who fought in the Napoleonic Wars as he suggests. I think the problem with this story for me was that I just didn’t feel anything for it. It didn’t move me, I didn’t connect with the characters and sadly, I just didn’t really “get” what the author was trying to say.

Overall, if you enjoy magical realism and stories steeped in folklore this is a great collection as a whole, it’s just a shame I gravitated towards other tales other than this one.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Published June 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Set-Up all about?:

Set-Up follows a teenage girl who finds herself in precarious circumstances with no parents around to assist or comfort her.

What did I think?:

All the stories in Manslaughter And Other Tears have won awards in some shape or form and this latest tale, Set-Up was the recipient of the Cairns Post Writers Award in Australia. I’ve already waxed lyrical about how much I am adoring this collection but if you haven’t read my previous reviews, this collection has everything I would want from a short story and I love the themes that the author chooses to explore. Many of these stories are rooted in fairy-tales but the most common themes are both the darkness of the writing and the twists and turns that Dianne Gray imposes upon the reader. Set-Up is another one of these tales where you think you have it all figured out and then you realise you really, really don’t.

Dianne Gray, author of the short story collection, Manslaughter And Other Tears.

So as with every novel/short story that I review which has the potential to be spoiled for readers who haven’t encountered it yet, I really can’t say too much about this story without ruining everything. So what can I say? Well, it’s the story of a young girl whom when we meet her is lying at the bottom of her basement stairs having severely injured her ankle. She is railing in her head at her parents whom she blames for everything that has gone wrong in her life, including such banal things as them daring to want to have a second honeymoon in Paris. Alone and a bit afraid, she manages to drag herself up the stairs to find two men in her house who have escaped from the nearby prison. The men are looking for money and food before they go on the run and are not delighted to be faced with an injured young girl who just happens to be the daughter of the head of the police. The narrative follows her interactions with them as they maintain innocence for their crimes, claiming they were “set-up.” As they attempt to escape, the unexpected occurs and things become a whole lot darker and grittier for all parties concerned.

Stairs to a basement – how I imagined the location of our female lead’s accident.

It sounds like quite a simple, run of the mill story about a young girl in a dangerous situation with escaped criminals doesn’t it? Don’t let my vague, non-spoiler description fool you. There is so much more going on in this short story than just that. Our female lead is an interesting and captivating character to read about and as a reader, you want to know what exactly has happened to her i.e. how did she come to fall down the stairs and how she is going to get herself out of this predicament with the absence of her parents and two hardened “baddies,” in her house? Nothing is what it seems in this story and I was shocked and delighted once more by the direction Dianne Gray chose to take things. I would have thought that by a few stories through the collection I would have cottoned on to her wily tricks and the way she manages to turn things around yet every time I’m still surprised and honestly, not expecting it. Dianne Gray is such a wonderful, talented author and I’m always bowled over by how much her stories stay with me, long after I’ve finished reading them.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Some Drolls Are Like That And Some Are Like This by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Published May 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Beachworld all about?:

Beachworld is set at an unspecified time in the future when a spacecraft crashes onto a beach, killing one of the crew. It is not long before the other two members of the crew discover that the land they are now stranded on is having a strange and very dangerous effect on both of them.

What did I think?:

I’m not going to go on and on about how much I adore Stephen King and his work. I think if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might realise that by now and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. Stephen King is my hero. The End. Personally, I think it’s rare where you find an author where you enjoy both their novels and shorter fiction equally and King is one of those authors for me. Of course, there are stories that I don’t particularly connect with, I have to be honest but generally, I go into King’s work knowing I’m not going to be disappointed. For me, Beachworld was another classic King tale, rich in imaginative detail and although it’s not my favourite in the collection, it was a solid, decent and fascinating narrative that drew me in and made me want to keep turning the pages.

Stephen King, the author of the short story Beachworld. This man is my god. Seriously.

As I’ve already mentioned in the synopsis, this story is about two men, Shapiro and Rand who have crash landed onto a deserted beach, in fact it’s probably more like a desert with numerous sand dunes and a hypnotic quality which becomes deadly as the narrative continues. They have lost one of their crew mates in a fire and resulting explosion that led to the crash of the craft and have very limited water and food supplies. Desperate to be rescued, Shapiro is hoping that another spacecraft will come to their aid. However, his colleague Rand doesn’t appear to be that bothered about being saved. That’s putting it lightly. He has become entranced by the dunes and will not budge from the top of one, even for water and quite quickly becomes emaciated. Meanwhile, the sand begins creeping over his body and into the craft itself, even though there are no possible entrances that the sand could be getting into (hey, that pesky sand gets everywhere, doesn’t it?). It is almost as if the sand is claiming Rand and burying him as he continues to stand on the dune, immovable and completely under its spell.

I am always hugely impressed by the way King seems to change it up with every single story he writes. I am seriously in awe of his imagination and story-telling ability and the way in which he seems to have unlimited tales to tell stored up in that brilliant little brain of his. Beachworld is King’s take on science fiction and this story almost feels Lovecraftian in its scope and the themes it explores. Now if you’ve seen my previous Lovecraft reviews, I’m not insulting King at all by saying this (I haven’t been the biggest fan of Lovecraft in the past) but I am referring to the strange other-worldly elements that H.P. Lovecraft chooses to use. I was intrigued by these elements at the beginning of my Lovecraft journey but unfortunately they got a little bit repetitive and “samey” for me and I ended up giving up the collection.

But back to King. There is definitely a similarity to the better Lovecraft horrors in Beachworld and I loved the author’s take on the future where androids are your assistants, pornography comes in the form of holograms and people still listen to The Beach Boys even though they died eight thousand years ago. The fact that the sand seems to be alive and has a mind of its own (and a very evil mind I must add!) creeped me out considerably and I think King used the isolation of the two men to good effect. After all, how scary is it to be all alone with little hope of rescue, no food and limited water and then to top it all off, your mate goes crazy and the sand wants to eat you?! The only thing that I was slightly disappointed with was the thing that comes out of the sand right near the end of the story. For me, it kind of ruined the atmosphere and I felt as if the sand had remained a mysterious entity, I would have continued to be slightly disturbed. It’s almost like a horror film, isn’t it? If you see the monster’s face, your fear is reduced slightly because now you know what you’re facing. It’s far more scary if you can’t see whatever’s stalking you. In my opinion anyway!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Set-Up by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – The Coincidence Of The Arts by Martin Amis from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Published May 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s The Coincidence Of The Arts all about?:

An English Baronet becomes entangled with an American chess hustler and aspiring novelist and has an unexpected affair with a silent Afro-Caribbean woman.

What did I think?:

Coincidence Of The Arts is the first story in this collection in the section entitled “Stories To Intrigue And Excite.” With a heading like this, I must say I WAS quite excited to finally read some Martin Amis but at the same time, approached it with slight trepidation as I’ve read a few less than complimentary things about the author as a person and understand he has a bit of a reputation. I decided to talk to a friend about the author as to what his writing was really like as I knew my source had read a couple of his books and that he would give me an honest opinion that I knew I could trust. Unfortunately, although my friend told me the author could definitely write, he was less than pleased with HOW Martin Amis chooses to write his characters. In particular, he mentioned how black, working class and female characters are written in an extremely stereotypical and perhaps, not a very favourable way.

The British author of The Coincidence Of The Arts, Martin Amis.

Hearing all this, I tried to go into this short story with an open mind. I really do like to make up my own mind about things like this but to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes. The person who voiced his opinion on the author is incredibly honourable, has high morals, believes in equality for everyone and is very scathing of anyone who has obvious prejudices. In other words, he must have had a solid reason and hard evidence to have such a strong opinion. Was he right? I’m afraid so.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about this narrative, the synopsis sums it up pretty perfectly but it’s basically the story of a white English man, Rodney Peel living in New York and working as an artist, painting portraits of rich wives for their husbands. He has two main relationships in this story, one with aspiring black novelist Pharsin Courier and the other with a black woman who he desperately wants to paint but eventually ends up sleeping with on a regular basis. Not much really happens in the story of note to be fair, we mainly get Pharsin and Rodney running into each other and Rodney making excuses for not having read Pharsin’s novel yet. Then we get portions of text where Rodney is going out with a friend and telling him about his relationship with the mysterious woman. Things do connect up slightly at the end but the bare bones of this story make it a tale about art, literature and race.

The setting for our story, beautiful New York where the author, Martin Amis also now lives.

Okay, so where on earth do I start? This is such a strange little story that at times, I found myself wondering what the point of it was. Is Martin Amis trying to be too clever? Did I miss the point of the story entirely? Both these things are possible but in the end, I’m afraid this story just wasn’t for me. I’m slightly confused at it being placed in the “Stories To Intrigue And Excite,” section of this collection. Granted, I was somewhat intrigued by Rodney’s relationship with a woman who remains silent during their encounters but sadly, there was no point of this tale that excited me. In fact, some parts of it made me half laugh/half scrunch my nose up in disgust and others left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. I’ll elaborate. There’s a point very early on in the story before Rodney and his lady friend have “done the deed,” and he’s talking to his friend about how fascinating he finds her. His friend very bluntly asks: “Have you two actually slimed?”

I couldn’t help thinking of this little guy….anyone remember Slimer from Ghostbusters?!

I mean, ewwwwww. I found it hilarious and utterly disgusting in equal measure. Aside from this awful little sentence my main problem with this story was the way people of colour were talked about both by Rodney and his hideous little friend. It was blatant racism of the worst possible kind and definitely does not sit well with me. I’m not sure if they were necessarily stereotypes but Rodney and friend talk about this woman that he is seeing in such archaic and ignorant terms, I literally squirmed whilst reading it.

I would like to try and end this review on a positive, I do always like to try and find something nice to say when writing a more critical review and in this case, I’d like to say that it is obvious the author can definitely write. I may not approve of the way he writes and talks about his characters but there is no denying he has a talent for spinning a yarn. It’s just a shame that from what I’ve heard from others and now, what I’ve read for myself, I will unfortunately not be treating myself to any Martin Amis in the future. If you can rest easy with these kinds of things in literary fiction, I’m sure you will enjoy his work – I however, cannot.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Beachworld by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.