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The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories

Joan Aiken

"Monday was the day on which unusual things were allowed and even expected to happen in the Armitage house.  It was on Monday, for instance, that two knights of the Round Table came and had a combat on the lawn, because they insisted nowhere else was flat enough."

Reviewed by Michelle Reale

What seems to be missing in so many recent collections of short stories, is, simply the story. There are times when the reader simply wants to be entertained, dropped into an alternate world where, even if things are upside down, wacky, so different that nothing is immediately recognizable to you, you settle in, because you know you are going to be entertained. While reading The Serial Garden, I would stop, occasionally to marvel at how much I was enjoying the innocent and playful stories of this crazy family. While Joan Aikens writing is not "simplistic" by any stretch of the imagination, it is "simple". What I mean by that is that the writing really is great storytelling. If she paid attention at all to the kind of writing that was in vogue during the vast years of her writing career, it doesn't manifest itself in the writing. The stories seem to spring from what was surely (given the sheer output and popularity of her books) an extremely active and creative mind, in all ways dedicated to the enjoyment of the reader.

The twenty-four stories collected in this volume and published by Big Mouth House follow the Armitage family in their day to day lives. Mr and Mrs Armitage, and their children Mark, Harriet and Milo take the absolute magical for granted, while into even the most seemingly mundane aspects of their lives amazing characters visit upon them.
Prelude
serves to explain to the reader why it is that "odd things frequently happened to the Armitages". Why, indeed. On their honeymoon, when Mrs. Armitage questions her husband on what married life will be like, and he quite aptly describes the proscribed traditional roles, she responds: "I see. You don't think . . . that sounds a little dull?" She goes on to list her wishes such as the house she'd like to live in, the children she'd like to have and what she will name them. And of course, in the Armitage world, all of this and then some come to pass. And, as the reader soon comes to know, Mondays have a particular significance in the Armitage family.

Other stories include The Frozen Cuckoo where the Armitage house becomes a sort of seminary for young magicians to train. Broomsticks and Sardines follows Mrs. Armitage as she finds out what her darling children Mark and Harriet are learning in their school. Readers will find truly delightful, Mrs. Armitage's efforts to raise money for "distressed old fair ladies" in Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home.

This collection contains wonderful introductions by Garth Nix and Lizzie Aiken, Joan Aiken's daughter, both of which give a fitting homage to Joan Aiken, and heartfelt appreciation for an extremely unique and clever brand of storytelling.

Read a story from this collection on Big Mouth House (Small Beer Press)

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university library in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Her fiction has been published in Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Rumble, Pank, Monkeybicycle, Eyeshot, Apt, Pequin, Blood Orange Review, JMWW and others.  Her fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat, is forthcoming from Burning River Press.

Michelle's other Short Reviews: Sana Krasikov "One More Year"

Jody Lisberger "Remember Love"

Anne Donovan "Hieroglyphics"

Publisher: Big Mouth House (Small Beer Press)

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?No

Author bio: Joan Aiken was born in East Essex, England in 1924. Her father was the famous writer, Conrad Aiken. She was a prolific writer of children's books, thrillers and other series books such as the Wolves Chronicles which is  set in a Britain that has an alternate history.   Joan Aiken died in January 2004.


Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Big Mouth House

AbeBooks

Amazon

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Neil Gaiman "Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders"

What other reviewers thought:

January Magazine

The Cultural Gutter