Fighting It
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)

Read an interview 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.

Take 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 characters.

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.

In 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:

"Not 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."

Now we 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 You Foreign, 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.

Read an extract from the title story of this collection at Two Ravens Press

Sarah Salway is a journalist, short story writer and novelist. She is the author of the short story collection, Leading the Dance, and two novels,  Something Beginning With and Tell Me Everything. She is currently the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the London School of Economics. 

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Lorrie Moore "Self Help"   

Karen Russell "St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves"

Niki Aguirre "29 Ways to Drown"

Michael Martone "Michael Martone" 
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