short story

READ THE WORLD – Thailand: The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon

A collection of twelve short stories that are all very different. Translated by Mui Poopoksakul.

All of the short stories are set in modern Thailand and they are all witty and often are a little weird too. They mix together genres like sci-fi with romance or mystery, some of them really shouldn’t work but they do. Pop culture references abound in these stories about characters of all ages and backgrounds. Having a collection feature stories about such different people shows little snapshots of what life is like in modern Thailand for different people. The setting was interesting as it often felt like a blend of the new and the traditional.

My favourite short stories happen to be two that feature vampires – “The Disappearance of a She-Vampire in Pattaya” and “Pen in Parentheses”. “The Disappearance of a She-Vampire in Pattaya” does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a mystery and the way different characters talk about the apparent She-Vampire makes you wonder if she is a vampire or not. “Pen in Parentheses” on the other hand was about a man reminiscing about his childhood living with his grandparents and how his grandfather would screen old films, including Dracula, on a bedsheet with accompanying classical music.

As is the case with short story collections, there were some stories I liked a lot and there were some I was indifferent to, but they were all pretty interesting in their own ways. Some of the stories were quite meta, with characters seeming to know they are characters and they’re just waiting to find out what the author is going to make them do. A lot of the stories have twists and turns and don’t go where you expect them to at all. This makes this collection a mostly enjoyable and unique experience.

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READ THE WORLD – Israel: The Nimrod Flip-Out by Etgar Keret

Translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston.

A collection of short stories about different characters, a lot of which are based in Israel.

The short stories in this collection are all very different in terms of plot and length. Some are only two pages long, while others are almost 30 pages long, meaning that for the most part, each story gets straight to the point. Having stories that are only a few pages long make them even more intense, the drama is heightened and the weirdness tends not to be explained.

So many of the characters in these stories face strange ironies and their lives are often not going that well. There’s humour, usually dark-humour, in a lot of them which balances out the stories that can be more sensitive and emotional. That’s the thing I really noticed with this collection, whoever decided what order to put the stories in really knew what they were doing. I say that because there could be a run of six or seven stories that are all surreal and funny but then the next one is more grounded. This tonal shift makes the more serious stories more affecting.

From my very limited knowledge of Israel and its society, some of the stories seemed satirical, with potential character stereotypes exaggerated for affect. There’s relationship drama, whether that’s romantic or familial, characters who are, or were, in the military, and there’s comparisons between Israel and the West and some commentary on how it’s developing as a society.

I really enjoyed The Nimrod Flip-Out. The stories are all so weird and wonderful and different which makes it a book that’s easy to deep in and out of. It’s fun to read a lot of the stories at once, but it’s also a nice collection to savour.

REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A short story about a woman who’s staying in a crumbling old mansion for three months. While her physician husband is out of the house almost every day, she spends her time in the room with yellow wallpaper. She becomes almost obsessed with the sinister patterns of the wallpaper as she struggles to deal with her nervousness and loneliness.

I listened to The Yellow Wallpaper on audiobook and it was narrated by Harriet Walter. I shan’t lie, the only reason I borrowed this book from my library was because of its title. I’m taking part in the A-Z Reading Challenge where you read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet and I needed a book that started with “Y”. But I’m happy I borrowed and read it as it was a very interesting read.

Told via the unnamed woman’s diary entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is a weird and creepy short story. At the beginning of the story the woman is very anxious and potentially has postnatal depression as she mentions she and her husband have a baby, though it’s mostly looked after by her husband’s sister, so she can rest. She’s jittery and spending so much time in their bedroom with the yellow wallpaper has her unsettled.

The way the wallpaper is described makes it sound like it’s alive, but only she can see what is trapped inside the patterns. She has been isolated by the people who are supposed to care for her and because of that it makes her anxieties worse and perhaps makes her slowly lose grip on reality.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a captivating and creepy gothic short story. The way the story progresses, and its ambiguous ending makes one unsure whether or not it is a “proper” horror story, but there’s certainly some horrifying imagery in it. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Murders in the Rue Morgue And Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

A collection of three short stories, two of them are The Murders in the Rue Morgue and its sequel The Mystery of Marie Rogêt which are creepy and gruesome mysteries. The third is The Purloined Letter which is mystery about a seemingly simple case.

I had an interesting time with this short story collection. It was the first time I’d read any Edgar Allan Poe and I flew through, and really enjoyed, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, but I found the other two stories a real drag.

All three stories are told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator. His friend Dupin is an amateur sleuth so when there’s a crime, he narrates how Dupin gets involved and how he might solve the case. Dupin’s explanations of what happened is where the stories lost me. They’re really long and in depth, with page long paragraphs that I found myself getting lost in as his explanations didn’t intrigue me. They seemed like a way to show off how clever Dupin was but there was never enough to make me like the guy.

The events of The Murders in the Rue Morgue are horrifying and there are a lot of vivid descriptions on the crime scene. Those sequences, in all the stories, are the most compelling. It’s the explanations that ended up boring me instead of making me interested in finding out whodunnit.

These short stories reminded me of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and E.W. Hornung. The style of writing and story-telling is quiet something but unlike Sherlock Holmes or A.J. Raffles, Dupin isn’t a charismatic protagonist that I almost instantly took a liking to.

I’m not sure if this was a good introduction to Poe but at least I can now say I’ve read The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Colombia: Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo

Translated by Charlotte Coombe

Fish Soup is a bind up of two novellas and a short stories collection. Waiting for a Hurricane follows a girl who’s desperate to leave her life and her country. Sexual Education is about a student who tries to keep to the strict doctrine of abstinence taught in her school. Worse Things is a collection of snapshots about different characters who are all in different states of turmoil.

Trigger warning for child abuse in Waiting for a Hurricane. The main character forms an unlikely friendship with an old fisherman from a young age. There’s one moment where it seems like his touching her under her underwear but it’s something she never minds and isn’t really mentioned again, and as it’s from a child’s perspective it takes a while for you to figure out what’s happening. She’s so desperate to leave her home on the Colombian coast that she loses touch with friends and family but never seems to find any real connections.

All the stories in Worse Things, and in the two novellas as well, are about people who are suffering in some way. None of them appear to be happy and nearly all of them are unreliable narrators. This makes it difficult to connect to these characters, especially in Worse Things as each snapshot is a matter of pages so you can never truly understand them. Some snapshots I’d have preferred to be longer as I found the characters and their situations interesting whereas I found others very frustrating.

In both Waiting for a Hurricane and Sexual Education, punctuation around speech isn’t used which can make reading these stories a little difficult to begin with as you get used to the style of them. The way the towns and overall settings of the stories were described was incredibly vivid and I could see the beauty of the country even though so many characters didn’t like their home or saw all the problems with it. Fish Soup is an interesting collection of work from Margarita García Robayo. It’s probably a good place to start but I unfortunately found it difficult to like and connect with the majority of the characters which lessened my enjoyment.

READ THE WORLD – Senegal: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

Recently widowed Ramatoulaye, writes letters to her childhood friend Aissatou chronicling her life and her struggle for survival after her husband Modou decided to take a second, much younger wife.

So Long a Letter is a very short book. At 95 pages it’s a reasonably quick read, once you’ve learnt who’s who in Ramatoulaye’s life. She has a dozen children, and then there’s the friends and family of her husband’s second wife as well, there’s a lot of characters for such a short book.

So Long a Letter is all about women, their relationships and their struggles with living in a social environment where the attitudes and values that dominate, deny them little independence. What I thought was clever was that it would’ve been very easy for Ramatoulaye to hate her husband’s second wife, but instead she almost pities her and leaves the hatred and bittiness towards her husband. That’s not saying Ramatoulaye is best friends with the woman, she doesn’t like her but she can see that she’s just as much a victim of circumstance as Ramatoulaye is herself.

Ramatoulaye’s relationships with her daughters is lovely. She makes mistakes as a mother but she doesn’t try and shield them from the world and there’s some great moments between her and her daughter Daba. Daba is forceful and forward-thinking, and it was interesting to see her grow and get in a relationship of her own.

So Long a Letter was a bit weird to start with as while Ramatoulaye was chronicling her own life story in these letters, it involved “telling” Aissatou so of the events that happened in her own life. Obviously, it was so us as readers could get a better understanding of these two women and their history, but it felt weird that someone was recounting someone else’s major life events back to them.

So Long a Letter was like a quick snapshot into the lives of women in Western African society in the late 1970’s. It was nice being a part of Ramatoulaye’s life for a while, see both her struggles and her strength, but it wasn’t really an engaging or memorable book.

READ THE WORLD – Peru: City of Clowns by Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado

Oscar “Chino” Uribe is a young Peruvian journalist and after the death of his philandering father, he must confront the idea of his father’s other family. While deals with his grief Chico’s latest assignment is to chronicle the life of the street clowns who populate the vibrant and violent city streets of Lima and while doing so he becomes drawn into their haunting yet fantastical world.

City of Clowns was originally a short story by Alarcón and the he and Alvarado collaborated to turn it into a short graphic novel with striking black and white illustrations. How the illustrations and the text is set out on the pages, with it not being afraid to leave a lot of negative space, really puts across how Chico is feeling. There’s black pages and isolated figures when it comes to Chico, but with the clowns it’s often a mixture of lively figures with melancholy faces.

After his father dies he and his mother are suddenly introduced to his father’s mistress Carmela and their sons, Chico’s half-brothers. His mother takes everything in her stride and the relationship she appears to form with Carmela is incomprehensible to Chico, further isolating him as he refuses to acknowledge his emotions.

City of Clowns is a interesting look at grief, emotions and identity. As Chico learns more about the clowns, he admires the way they are hiding behind a mask, that people pay them little attention and they can be whoever they want to be when they perform.

City of Clowns is a quick read but a memorable one. The writing is simple yet eloquent while the illustrations convey so much emotion. 4/5.