Ebb and Flow
 by Lorna Page

Author House UK Ltd
First collection

Lorna Page's first novel, a thriller entitled A Dangerous Weakness, was published when the author was 93 years old, at the instigation of her daughter-in-law.  Now 95, she lives near her birthplace, in Devon. She started writing, she says, "As soon as I could hold a pencil."

Read an interview with Lorna Page

"Emily felt in the proffered pocket and walked up the short path between rows of overgrown roses and trailing honeysuckle. canterbury bells and sweet williams jostled marigolds and asters – and mixed with them all was a plentiful supply of wild flowers."

Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius

The title of this collection comes from a poem by the author’s friend, Pat McGee:
"With ebb and flow and ebb and flow
It’s surely the way most lives go."
Gentle watery movements form a metaphor for slow-paced episodes in the lives of conventional characters. Very English in mood and setting, these tales of country life and every day routine are enlivened by humour. Change, and the prospect of change, is slow, often seasonal, evoking regret and nostalgia.

The pastoral genre has been a perennial favourite in English fiction. Lacking Hardy’s restless passion, with characters of a more lowly status than Shakespeare’s rustic ramblers, Lorna Page’s stories firmly belong in the Jane Austen tradition of social satire. Like Austen’s "two inches of ivory" the social world is narrow but the themes are universal.

That said, a darker undercurrent is discernible: in Strangers, for instance, an escaped murderer is lured to a seaside cottage by an ‘innocent’ hostess with her own sinister agenda. The contrast of quiet opening mood with macabre ending recalls some of Roald Dahl’s creepy tales.

Cottages and gardens feature in landscapes full of flowers, trees and birdsong. For the most part the weather is sunny, but wind-lashed branches and stormy squalls can be harbingers of the supernatural. Trees here are as likely to speak aloud as to whisper, their dark shapes menacing a lone pedestrian caught in a storm at Halloween.

One might wish for more conflict and drama, but dialogue is authentic and deployed to good effect: in Genius, for instance, a child delights his parents with a frankness they would shrink from, expressing by proxy their disapproval of an irresponsible relative. Nostalgia often surfaces, whether reminiscences of a ghostly kind or fanciful dreams of what might have been. Self-deceit is more common than hypocrisy and foibles are of the harmless kind: an old woman disapproves of a friend placing small on horse races but indulges a taste for football pools.

Old age is a time for gentle pursuits: gardening, dreaming on benches or watching the sea; there’s more than a touch of Last of the Summer Wine to her companionable old men. Younger ones are obsessed with cars but prefer good plain food. Their problems are ripples of alarm for what seldom happens: the fear of moving house move turns out to be based on a false assumption; an old man is rewarded with companionship when he extricates a friend’s wife from a nursing home. For the most part death is absent, and the infirmities of old age, apart from indicators such as walking sticks, are absent. Admirers of rural idylls touched by a frisson of unknown forces will find much to enjoy.

Sheila Cornelius is a reviewer based in South London. A graduate of Goldsmiths’ College and author of a book on Chinese film, she also reads widely and writes fiction.
Sheila's other Short Reviews: The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 2008

Anne Enright "Taking Pictures"

Courttia Newland "Music for the Off-Key"

Loud Sparrows: Contemporary Chinese Short-shorts

Liz Niven and Brian Whittingham (eds)  "Bucket of Frogs"

Andre Mangeot "A Little Javanese"

Steve Morris "In All Probability
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