The Beautiful Indifference

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Short Stories Challenge – Vuotjärvi by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Published December 18, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Vuotjärvi all about?:

In the final short story of this collection, the serenity of a Finnish lake turns sinister when a woman’s lover does not return from his swim.

What did I think?:

I was disappointed to discover that Vuotjärvi was the last story in this collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely hunt for more books from Sarah Hall. I’m quite tempted to read her debut novel, Haweswater but I do already have a copy of her latest novel, The Wolf Border on my Kindle so stay tuned to discover which one I will pick! This story is set in the beautiful country of Finland where a young couple take up the offer of a cottage beside a lake (the Vuotjärvi of the title) for what looks to be their first holiday away together.

The story is told from the woman’s point of view as she watches her boyfriend swim out to the little island in the middle of the lake, expecting him to take about forty-five minutes to reach it. She watches until his head becomes a mere speck in the distance and then her mind wanders, re-living certain sensual moments of their relationship which the reader understands to be quite new and exciting as they haven’t yet said the pivotal three words “I love you.” When she looks out again to the lake, expecting to see him approaching or on the island she cannot see him which does not concern her at first – perhaps he has already got out of the water and is walking around the perimeter of the island after all.

However, when time passes by and she still cannot see her boyfriend, a mild panic begins to take over her and images of his body lying prone in the water come to her mind. She herself is not a strong swimmer and she recollects that she has already had a frightening experience when they were both swimming together in the lake where she felt as if she were being dragged down by something underneath. She debates for a while whether to rouse their neighbours and ask for help but decides that this may waste precious time so pulls their little rowing boat into the water and sets off towards the island herself, praying that she will see him at any moment.

This is when the story takes an even more sinister turn but I am wary of spoiling it. I think the beauty of this story lies in reading it yourself – all I will say is prepare for an eerie and dramatic last line! Sarah Hall seems to be a bit of a fan for ambiguous endings and, as ever, a lot is left open for the reader to explore with their own imagination. Mine is particularly vivid and there are multiple possible scenarios for a resolution, or not as the case may be. This tale was a perfect finale to the author’s first short story collection that combined beautiful moments of a couple in the first throes of love with creepy, unsettling prose and imagery that left me quite unsure at times whether I was reading a love story or a horror story! I am certain however that the darkness and passion of the author’s imaginings will stay with me and continue to unsettle me for a while yet.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Bibhutibhushan Malik’s Final Storyboard by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – October to December

Published October 2, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://www.slideshare.net/ernella32/teaching-the-short-story

It’s nearly the end of the year and here’s what I’ll be reading short story wise to see out 2015!

Week beginning 5th October

Corrugated Dreaming by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 12th October

Beachcombing by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 19th October

A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop

Week beginning 26th October

The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 2nd November

The Adventure Of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 9th November

Vuotjärvi by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 16th November

Bibhutibhushan Malik’s Final Storyboard by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Week beginning 23rd November

The Jesus Stories by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 30th November

We Were Just Driving Around by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 7th December

The Chamois by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 14th December

Under The Pylon by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 21st December

A Mighty Horde Of Women In Very Big Hats, Advancing by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 28th December

The Mean Time by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – The Nightlong River by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Published August 18, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Nightlong River all about?:

The Nightlong River is told from the point of view of a young girl whose closest friend is ailing and not thought to live much longer. She makes her a mink coat to keep her warm in the winter, catching the mink herself with the help of her brothers.

What did I think?:

This is the penultimate story in Sarah Hall’s beautiful collection of strange, warped but endlessly fascinating collection. So, five stories in I’ve kind of learned what to expect from the author but it always ends up being a wonderful surprise. All the tales are told from the point of view of a female character, differing in age but always with an unbelievable internal strength who are usually going through a difficult period in their lives. In The Nightlong River we are given the perspective of Dolly whose best friend Magda is desperately ill with a skeletal frame, protuberances that can be felt underneath her armpits and excessive vaginal bleeding.

Magda has been to the doctor but they are finding it difficult to find out what is wrong with her – ah, the mysteries of the woman’s internal cycle! One doctor concludes that it must be something in her brain but Magda is a little loath to undergo surgery as she has been told there is no guarantee she would be left “intellectually intact,” despite the improvements in neurosurgery after the Great War. Instead, she continues to bleed and becomes weaker with each day. Her poor friend Dolly is at her wits end over what she can do to help, in the end all she wants to “is keep her warm” and the notion enters her head that she will make her friend a beautiful mink coat that will protect her from the worst of the freezing winter temperatures.

The mink are becoming a bit of a nuisance for Dolly’s community so it is also a perfect opportunity for Dolly to go out hunting with her brothers and nab herself some mink, she believes around eight pellets will do the trick. The rest of the story describes Dolly’s slog as she hunts down the mink, skins them herself and then toils all hours of the day and night to complete the coat for Magda in time for Christmas.

Sarah Hall writes in such a way that it was an absolute pleasure to get to the end and immediately begin reading it again. The prose is truly beautiful and really makes you feel the icy wind and snow of the North of England. As with the previous stories I have read in this collection, there is an element of darkness and in The Nightlong River our darkness is mainly provided by the spectre of Mr Death himself who you feel lurking ominously among the pages:

“The truth of death is a peculiar thing. For there was a fascination to these evenings that went past utility or sport. We were in the hinterlands, a wilding place, where the reign was ours entirely. We were the wolves. We were the lions…. For when they leave us the beloved are as if they never were. They vanish from this earth and vanish from the air. What remains are moor and mountains, the solid world upon which we find ourselves, and in which we reign.”

The author’s descriptions of the landscape are gorgeous and very evocative and if it were not for the mention of the Great War, I may have placed this story as being set hundreds of years ago, it had that old-fashioned, gritty and endless toil feeling. I fell in love with Dolly immediately as a character, finding her bravery and determination to make that coat for her friend commendable yet heart-breaking. I can’t believe that there is only one more story in this collection to read, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, don’t want it to end and will definitely be looking out for more of Sarah Hall’s work in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Narrative of Agent 97-4702 by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner.

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – April to June

Published April 3, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://www.msauret.com/have-short-stories-become-irrelevant/

I’m so glad I started this challenge, I’ve discovered some real gems of stories and brilliant new authors. I never thought of myself as a short story fan but now I can say that I know what all the fuss is about. Here’s what I’m going to be reading from April to June this year.

Week beginning 6th April 

Roots And All by Brian Hodge from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 13th April 

The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 20th April 

Bloodsport by Tom Cain from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 27th April 

The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 4th May 

Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 11th May 

The Jaunt by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 18th May 

Camp Sundown by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 25th May 

The Giant’s Boneyard by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 1st June 

A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker from the collection The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives of Women, 100 Great Stories

Week beginning 8th June 

Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules For Antarctic Tailgating by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 15th June 

The Man With The Twisted Lip by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 22nd June 

The Nightlong River by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 29th June 

Narrative of Agent 97-4702 by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Short Stories Challenge – She Murdered Mortal He by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Published March 5, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s She Murdered Mortal He all about?:

After fighting with her boyfriend, a woman goes for a night walk on a remote tropical beach with dark, unexpected consequences.

Sarah Hall has been hailed as “one of the most significant and exciting of Britain’s young novelists” (The Guardian). Now, in this collection of seven pieces of short fiction, published in England to phenomenal praise, she is at her best: seven pieces of uniquely talented prose telling stories as wholly absorbing as they are ambitious and accessible.

What did I think?:

After reading quite a few stories in this collection now, I was quite prepared to find this story had a slight edge to it but the author seemed to really pull all the stops and as a result, it made for a fantastic read. Our unnamed narrator is holidaying in South Africa with her boyfriend and so far they’ve had a wonderful time, although neither of them were prepared for seeing parts of the country torn apart from war. This particular evening however, our narrator asks her boyfriend if there is something the matter (a loaded question if there ever was one) as he appears restless and somewhat distracted. However, she isn’t at all prepared for the answer she receives – in that there seems to be something wrong with their relationship. She is obviously devastated and leaves their room immediately to walk for a while through the jungle and onto the beach.

It’s quite scary out there in a strange land and on her own but our narrator is determined that she would like time alone to think things through. Before long, she believes she is being followed and turns to see a white object by the waves whom she thinks is her boyfriend, rushing after her to take back his original toxic thoughts and wishes about their relationship. When she has established it is not, she panics and walks a little faster as the beach is completely deserted but then the object gets closer enough for her to see it is a dog. And quite a friendly one luckily enough who allows himself to be petted, forming quite an attachment to our narrator. After going to a bar and sipping some beers our narrator feels calm enough to return to her boyfriend and she has even come to terms with the fact that their relationship may be over and, although it would be hard, she would probably get over it in time. Then she arrives back at the hotel…

That’s all I’m saying! Believe me, you really don’t want the ending ruined for this one and what an ending it is. Like many Sarah Hall stories in this collection so far, it is very twisty/turny, ending quite abruptly which leaves a lot of things to the reader’s own imagination. Furthermore, the author’s stunningly beautiful and very descriptive prose makes this story one to be read slowly, savouring each minute little detail. I loved the way that the narrators emotions was reflected in the landscape – for example, at the beginning of the walk when her mental state is slightly more frail, the jungle, waves and wildlife appear to be much more frightening than when she has thought things through a little and is calmer. This is another evocative short read from the jaw-dropping talents of Sarah Hall and I’m very pleased that I’ve had the chance to experience it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Demons by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – January to March

Published January 9, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Another year over, and a new year of short stories begins! Here’s what I’m going to be reading each week until the end of March.

Week beginning 5th January

Magpies by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 12th January

A Married Man’s Story by Katherine Mansfield from the collection The Story, Love, Loss & The Lives of Women 100 Great Short Stories chosen by Victoria Hislop

Week beginning 19th January

The Barn At The End Of Our Term by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 26th January

The Five Orange Pips by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 1st February

She Murdered Mortal He by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 8th February

Demons by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Week beginning 15th February

The Ceiling by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 22nd February

Keeping Watch Over The Sheep by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 1st March

The Archduchess by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 8th March

The Oversoul by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 15th March

The Apple by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 22nd March

Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 29th March

Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall

Short Stories Challenge – The Agency by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Published October 1, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Agency all about?:

From Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Sarah Hall comes a collection of unique and disturbing short fiction hailed as a sensation by UK reviewers. In the Agency, a bored housewife and mother finds a new and strange club to belong to that she has been looking for all her life.

What did I think?:

Fans of Sarah Hall will already know of the strength and beauty of her writing but every time I read one of the stories in this collection I am always amazed by the delicate way in which she crafts her tale, as if every single word has been taken into account and chosen especially for that particular story. The ending, as always, is fairly abrupt which may not be to everyone’s taste but I always appreciate how much longer it keeps me thinking and mulling over the story in my own mind, to make some sort of sense of it.

The Agency is about a woman named Hannah who is a stay at home mother of two children and just recently, has become very unsatisfied in her own life and her marriage. She has been somewhat uplifted by meeting Anthea at the school gates, whose child also goes to the same school as her own children. Anthea gives her a much needed lifeline by introducing her to a small group of women who enjoy spending money, drinking wine and sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and confessions with each other. Anthea is also the one who presents Hannah with a business card for a select club known only as The Agency, after Hannah confesses that her marriage has become stale and that she was almost tempted into an affair with her husband’s brother, even if it was just to shake things up a bit:

“I had been married for fourteen years. There had been no crimes committed on either side. There was so little to regret. But in the end, thinking of our life together made no difference. It was as if love had become scentless, bloodless, it had somehow lost its vitality.”

Anthea reassures Hannah that it is okay for women to have secrets, she deserves to be part of the “club,” and it was probably better to join or her desires would eventually consume her. Hannah makes the appointment and is told there will be an initial consultation before something appropriate is set up. By this point in the story, I was perfecting my Alice in Wonderland “curiouser and curiouser” frown on my face and was desperate to know what it was all about. The truth is, it’s an incredibly different sort of club where all the members are women and all requirements are met. Hannah is terribly nervous about her first appointment but comes back an incredibly satisfied lady. She has a bruise on her hip that she has already worked out how she will explain to her husband although the marks on her wrists will have to be covered until they disappear. The stockings she was wearing that now have a visible ladder are immediately discarded and covered up with other rubbish lest they be found. When Anthea asks where she has been for the day, Hannah explains that she was visiting a relative and Anthea laughs knowingly and says “Of course darling, of course.” End of story!

I read this story two times and I definitely appreciated it more second time round. The writing as I mentioned before is beautiful and I loved how the author built the story piece by piece, dropping a few clues along the way. I also love how she doesn’t shy away from potentially taboo subjects and the reader is exposed to them either ever so gently or with a bit of a jolt. This is a really interesting little story that will be playing on my mind for a while and I can’t wait to read the next in the collection.

Would you recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner