by Regi Claire
Two Ravens Press
First collection? No
Shortlisted, Saltire Book of the Year award 2009.
Regi Claire lives in
Edinburgh with her
husband, the writer Ron Butlin. Her mother tongue is Swiss German but
she writes in English. Her previous books are Inside-Outside
(shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award) and The Beauty Room
(longlisted for the MIND Book of the Year Award)
with Regi Claire
"Under the tablecloth, his fingers had
slipped off her thigh. She’d giggled, near-hysterical, to pretend he’d
just told her a funny story. Meanwhile he sat gazing into his cup like
a fortune-teller who’d run out of future."
Reviewed by Sarah Salway
These stories are both satisfying and exciting to read. Satisfying, in
that often a surprising conclusion is reached (although no ending here
is ever pat), and exciting because short stories can sometimes fail to
take off. Or they take off and don’t land. Regi Claire knows how to
play the tension perfectly though – she shows us how to "fight it". If
there’s one common theme, then it’s how hard her characters find it to
communicate, often speaking best through or to animals.
Laura, the sinister hero of the title story who exercises like "a rat
in the wheel" and finds pride in keeping her cell perfectly clean, and
who only allows herself one indulgence, Bandit the cat. Working in
contrast to Laura’s chilling memories and her sparse prison life, the
scene in which Bandit nibbles apricots and rubs his tail against
Laura’s bare breasts is almost disturbingly erotic – just as you know
Claire intended. Bandit is a comfort Laura can’t keep – sooner or
later, real life always enters the bubble worlds inhabited by Claire’s
In the story Everybody Goes Crazy
Once In A While,
"Michelle" finds it hard to change when his neighbours have other
ideas. Even when they barricade him inside his own house, it is his
dog, Jeanne, he worries about even though it is a letter from his
daughter which sparks the crisis. As soon as he knows Jeanne is safe,
he faces his tormentors.
In The Death Queue,
the narrator feels – and wishes - she should have been the one to die,
rather than her lover. Her reaction to his death mirrors what we begin
to learn about their relationship when he was alive. It’s cleverly done.
her biography, Regi Claire writes that English is not her
mother-tongue. She was born and brought up in Switzerland speaking
Swiss-German, and I wondered if this helped with the preciseness of her
language. Her prose is never lazy. She captures details about people,
places and animals like a true analytical collector.
For instance, in The Punishment,
when Cathy is allowed to look at her father’s bible, she knows exactly
which one her mother means:
the unwieldy heirloom with the stained and creaking calfskin and the
flyleaf full of names, verses and dates like an ancient tombstone. No,
this one fitted snugly into her hands. It was bound in delicately
tooled, red Morocco leather that had a musky, exotic smell, and its
pages were the colour of ivory, as smooth as silk."
too, even as readers, can feel the weight of that bible in our hands,
and understand it’s preciousness to a child who doesn’t fit in either.
Another strength is place. These stories veer around the world, and
across every social set. In Because
Maggie sips the banana drink her husband buys for her while slowly
losing the will to live during a holiday in Tenerife. But then she is
picked up by a local hen party as a lucky mascot, "because you
foreign", "because you blonde", "And you very pretty." It gives her the
impetus she needs to leave the ghastly George, so when he asks her to
take some pictures of a volcano for him, she gives him a parting
present. Disappointed with the volcano, and tired of what she believes
is the fakery and desolation of the island, she finally attempts to
tell the truth about their relationship. It’s a lovely moment when
George looks through the photographs only to find one of Maggie
flicking V signs at him.
Although these stories are about people
stuck, albeit in situations of their own making, this is the kind of
life-enhancing moment Claire is so good at and which makes this
collection such a rewarding read.