by Sally Vickers
the troubles of the world stem from man's inability to sit still in a
room,' my grandmother used to say.
Reviewed by Pauline Masurel
On the face of it, these are
gentle stories. Their edges are not those of high drama but of
smaller, circumscribed lives, often a little faded by age. Settings
for these stories include Venice, the Chesterton Court Residents'
Association, Somerset lanes and maroon-and-cream country buses.
Characters include Mrs Radinsky who's rumoured to be "on the game"
up in her penthouse studio and loveless Lionel who won't "do"
Christmas. There's an open simplicity to most of these stories which
I found refreshing. They won't make your brain hurt with decoding
meanings. Which is not to say that they're facile or don't have a
complexity of emotional response, but you'll generally finish the
story knowing what it was about. And they have proper endings too,
endings in which plenty of uppances duly come.
few potential exceptions to this rule are those stories which rely on
knowledge of literary or artistic allusions for their effect, or at
least to augment their meaning. For the title story, Aphrodite's
this is made easy for the reader because the painting is reproduced
on the book cover. The
adopts a similar approach by reproducing an entire Matthew Arnold
poem at the end of the story to retrospectively explain itself. I
found this strategy over the top, but it highlights the difficulty of
carrying off a story that relies upon an exterior element being
accessible to all readers rather than just allowing it to amplify the
story for those who are aware of the original atwork.
extensively references Midsummer Night's Dream. That story, and The
Fall of the Sparrow which
features a ghostly Keatsian character, didn't really work for me.
Partly because I'm simply not into Shakespeare and Keats in the way
that Salley Vickers probably is, and partly because I found the
allegories forced and unnecessary. In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed
the mention in Mrs
of the man with a pathological hatred of rats who is asked to deliver
a seminar on the novel 1984. But, if you're not remotely familiar
with George Orwell's ouevre then you might find that quip as
gratuitously irritating as Will Shakespeare pitching up in a story to
explain one of his plays.
as I enjoy a little magic realism from time to time, I prefer Salley
Vickers's writing when she is dealing in real lives and demonstrating
the acuity of her views of human nature and nuance.
For example, Epiphany
how a man's sense of his own life history is transformed when he
discovers that his father isn't the good-for-nothing he has always
been told. Moving
at that hiatus moment when a place of significance is sold. It
considers "accomodation" in all of its senses, not just as a
place to live, but how we make allowances for things and come to
terms with them. There are stories that involve secrets shared
between trusted adults and children: the nan in Nightmare
and an allotment holder in The
are both a little slight in plot and import but interesting
examinations of adult/child relationships.
in Sally Vickers's first novel, Miss Garnet's Angel, religion is a
frequent theme in these stories and the mysterious and the
metaphysical often crop up. The
carries this off well with a perfectly balanced ending that leaves
the reader able to interpret the outcome as either a miracle or the
result of an entirely earthly agency. The
which overlaps events in a hotel room through time, was less
successful to my way of reading, leaving me a puzzled sometimes about
the story's timelines.
This collection is a welcome
introduction to Salley Vickers's short fiction. Her novels have been
tremendously popular with book clubs and reading groups.
Consequently, I'm disappointed that (at the time this review was
written) her own website does not even include this collection in the
Books section, despite the fact that the hardback was published back
in 2010. Is the implication that a collection of stories is not a "proper book", perhaps, and hence somehow unworthy of mention?
This is a great shame, because it's a missed opportunity for Salley
Vickers, for her readers and for the cause of short stories that the
short fiction of such a well-loved and frequently-read author could
so easily be overlooked, even by her own dedicated fans.