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Body Parts: The Anatomy of Love

Richard Bardsley

‘I think you should meet my parents.’

‘I’d like to, but I’m afraid I may cause offence by calling them something regrettable over the tiramisu …’

Reviewed by Petra Fromm

Body Parts is divided into three main sections, "The Head", "The Upper Torso" and "The Lower Torso", each of which covers areas of the body such as "eyes""armpits""genitalia", etc. The sections are broken up with "interregnums""veins""tattoo""freckles", and the whole comes complete with prologue and epilogue. So there we have it – the human body neatly divided, each portion providing inspiration for a short story. 

The flyleaf describes

a collection of stories, each one dedicated to a part of the human body and all on the theme of love.
Fair enough, although, depending on one’s interpretation of the word "love", these are not conventional love stories. In terms of genre and setting, they’re an eclectic bunch, historical, futuristic, or recognisably contemporary, while some are set in a mysterious other-where. But only some of the stories live up to the flyleaf’s description as "dark, humorous, inspiring and surprising". 

Arms uses a circus freak-show as the perfect backdrop to a tale of exquisite loneliness and unspoken desire. Lips is a delightfully warm and playful invocation of Tourette’s syndrome, and I was charmed by its potty-mouthed yodeller, Calliope, ironically named for the ancient Greek muse of epic poetry. 

Less accurate is the flyleaf’s claim that

 by the end … we will have explored love in all of its aspects,
which suggests a balance missing from the collection. Body Parts puts love under the microscope in a clinical exposition of neuroses, obsessions and fetishes. At their best, the stories deliver with perceptive acuity. At worst, they come across as tritely postmodern, dissecting themes of love in a jaded and, by far, too clever narrative where the narrator is always self-consciously present. At times, he (the narrator is emphatically male) just doesn’t know when to shut up. This is most evident in Lips, where the barrage of verbosity and colloquial vernacular made me cringe. 

Perhaps what’s missing here is the organ most often associated with love – many of these stories lack the heart which invites a reader to connect on anything more than a superficial level. It’s a good idea though, and there are moments where concept and narrative make a happy marriage.

Petra Fromm is a non-fiction editor and reviewer for Wet Ink: the magazine of new writing. She lives in South Australia with her partner, Daniel, and two Oriental cats. Her current project is a novel, Soldier’s Daughters Don’t Cry, written for the PhD in Creative Writing at Adelaide University.

Petra's other Short Reviews: "The Sleepers Almanac: The Family Affair"   


PublisherSalt Publishing

Publication Date: Feb 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2008

Author Bio: Richard Bardsley was born in Sale, Manchester in 1975. After graduating Film Studies from Sheffield Hallam University, he moved to London and worked as a freelance video editor. 

Read an interview with Richard Bardsley

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