Looking back on the books of 2016

This is another overdue blog post, but one that I’ve really been looking forward to writing. I read 31 books in 2016, of varying quality, but overall it was a good reading year. I tried to branch out, accepting a total of eight review copies from publishers – which is a lot for me these days. Of these the highlights for me were (links go to my reviews):

The last of these is not out until May 2017, so my review will come a little closer to the time. It was offered to me by Georgina Moore at Tinder Press and I am very glad I accepted. It is a wonderful blend of crime fiction and historical fiction based on real events, coupled with multiple narrators (all unreliable) and some really beautiful writing. In case you didn’t know, it’s about Lizzie Borden, and I loved it. You can read more here. And just look at that beautiful cover!

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(image via goodreads.com)

I read a lot of history books in 2016, both fiction and non-fiction. One other historical novel I must highlight is The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. I’d been intimidated by its length (over 900 pages) but finally gave it a go earlier in the year – and I was not disappointed. It is a fictional autobiography of a former Nazi officer which the author spent five years researching, and it is one of the best novels I have ever read. Not only is it brilliantly written but it is deeply philosophical and challenging, and I greatly admire Littell for somehow managing to write it.

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I read a handful of other books about the Second World War and three of the best were written by and about women, real women of the War who faced huge challenges and trials but who remained strong and determined throughout. The first of these was Gone to Ground by Marie Jalowicz Simon. The book is a compilation of her stories (recorded on tape and put together by her son) from her time living in Berlin during the War as a Jewish woman. She lived ‘underground’, in hiding, using an alias and constantly moving. It is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Similarly, I also read A Woman in Berlin. It is an anonymous account of the last few months of the War by a German woman living in Berlin. She is not persecuted as Jalowicz Simon was, but her whole life is destroyed and she suffers immensely. It is a harrowing but necessary book and shows the cost of the War on ordinary German people that often gets overlooked. I read these two books close together and wrote about them in one blog post (linked above) and they have really stuck with me. I think they are vital reading for anyone considering the experience of women in Europe during the Second World War.

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Another book that fits into that category is If This is a Woman by Sarah Helm. It’s a massive book so I waited until it was out in paperback before I read it, the delay making my expectations quite high – and they were all met. It is the first book dedicated to the story of Ravensbrück, the only Nazi concentration camp built specifically for women, and it was one of the most incredible books I have ever come across. I had read If This is a Man by Primo Levi so I had some idea of what to expect; but of course each story is unique, and these women all had incredible stories. Sarah Helm is to be hugely admired and respected for telling these stories, for doing the research and making sure each name is mentioned, each life is honoured in some way. I will not soon forget this book. I should note that in America the title is simply Ravensbrück.

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Towards the end of the year I wanted to branch out from history, and so I read The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, which was just brilliant. I was already a fan of Jackson’s writing but I’d never actually read any of her short stories. Some of these are still quite fresh in my mind (least of all the title story) and I am desperate to read more. Luckily I was given two more volumes of her short stories for Christmas, so I have those to look forward to. These were Let Me Tell You and Dark Tales.

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The other highlights of my reading year, which I don’t have space to write more about here, were:

I have enjoyed reading other ‘best of 2016’ posts – it was a good year for books – and I look forward to a great 2017 filled with marvellous things to read. I am on my second book of the year at the moment and frankly I am dying to get back to it, so I shall finish here. Happy 2017!

 

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

I’ve read three of Shirley Jackson’s novels, so it only felt right to try some of her short stories; and after all, The Lottery is heralded as one of the most brilliant (and controversial) in the genre.

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2009 PMC edition

At first, some of these stories reminded me Truman Capote’s with their edge of uncertainty and fear underlying the safe environment of the home – I particularly thought of his story Miriam, with its creeping unease. But as this collection goes on the stories become more and more unsettling, until the story of the title is reached at the very end and the reader is left bewildered and amazed.

I already knew that Jackson was a wonderful novelist, but now I know that she is also a master of the short story. Her ability to create not only tension and uncertainty but also vivid characters and settings with so few words really is impressive. She also makes liberal use of ambiguous endings to leave the reader wondering if they really understood what they just read, or if she misled them the whole time. It’s like the bewilderment at the end of her novel Hangsaman repeated over and over.

Like most of her work that I’ve read so far, these stories of Jackson’s are often concerned with the fragility of the positions, statuses, and environments that women have created for themselves in society. Housewives are under threat from forces trying to disrupt their marriage or their neighbourhood; an executive is threatened by the presence of a new receptionist and the confusion over her relationship with her boss; and several female characters are pushed to the edge of their sanity. There is much to fear in the apparently safe worlds of home and work. Even the husbands and boyfriends can pose some sort of underlying threat.

Most interesting to me was Jackson’s repeated use of the name James Harris for male characters; this name first appears in the story The Daemon Lover. This is also the name of a Scottish ballad – that is also known as ‘James Harris’. Jackson’s story features a young woman waiting for her fiancé on their wedding day, who happens to be called James Harris. This name appears again and again various forms (sometimes ‘Mr Harris’ or simply ‘Jim’) and the reader wonders if he is a symbol for the harm that men can do to women through their attitudes and treatment. Jackson’s James Harris is the man your mother warned you about, the stranger who stares at you, the boyfriend you’re not quite sure about. It is a potent symbol of the threat to women’s rights and happiness in society and the home.

This collection was first published in the late 1940s, and we must remember that this was a time when women were expected to return to their subservient pre-war roles, and the men were returning to the work force. Jackson’s women yearn for more than their small domestic lives – or they guard them fiercely. There is a sense that the world one has created could so easily be destroyed by one person or one decision, and women are particularly vulnerable to this. These underlying issues make these stories even more brilliant than they are on the surface, and made me realise how sharp and intelligent Jackson’s writing is, and how wonderful it is to read.

I’m now on a mission to read everything she has ever written!

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Originally published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux in 1949. I read the 2009 Penguin Modern Classics edition (pictured above).

Purchase from Wordery and Foyles.

 

 

Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes

I bought this book last year, and somehow have only just got around to reading it. Too many books as always. Despite being about life during the Second World War I knew that it would not be a heavy read – and so I took it with me on holiday to Mallorca.

The introduction and afterword provide plenty of information about Mollie Panter-Downes and the context in which these stories came about: they were all published in The New Yorker during the course of the War. Panter-Downes was their ‘writer in London’ and these stories were her way of communicating what ordinary English life was like between 1939 and 1944. Also included in the book are two of her ‘Letter from London’ articles that were also published in The New Yorker – one from 1939 and one from 1944. They bookend the stories and remind us that while these are fictional tales they are based on the realities of civilian life in this period and place.

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Mollie Panter-Downes was a journalist as well as writer of fiction and this is demonstrated in the matter-of-fact nature of her storytelling. Her characters live ordinary lives, fully realised, that become extraordinary in one way or another – whether it a sewing group arguing over whether to make pyjamas for Greek troops, or a husband leaving his wife to go and fight. Domestic drama becomes a microcosm of the conflict and change that every country involved experienced during the War. The silent pain of a housewife represents the pain of all those who have lost something.

The fact is that Mollie Panter-Downes was a beautiful writer. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was the pure loveliness of her language, the nuances and the perfectly captured moments. There is great emotional depth in her stories, but it is buttoned up by the characters and their will to ‘keep calm and carry on’. They are so very English in their desire for life to continue and to prevent their world from falling apart.

The story that the book takes its name from,’Good Evening, Mrs Craven’, is one of the most heartbreaking. The woman in question is called ‘Mrs Craven’ by a restaurant owner who doesn’t know she is in fact Mr Craven’s mistress. When he is called to fight she has no way of knowing if he is still alive, and resorts to calling the real Mrs Craven and pretending to be an old friend of her husband, asking if she has had any news. Their conversation is so well composed that it seems real, and you can feel the pain of both women.

Most of the stories focus on the women left behind, but there are men too – those too old or unwell to fight. We see their frustration at not being able to go, and their sadness that another war has come. No one escapes the pain of being caught in this impossible situation, but while these stories are sometimes sad they are ultimately uplifting as a whole. There are moments of humour scattered throughout and the overriding impression is that although life has changed irrevocably, it does in fact go on. The English spirit perseveres and Mollie Panter-Downes reminds us that there is always something to fight for.

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The stories in Good Evening, Mrs Craven were originally published in The New Yorker, 1938-1944, and published as this collected by Persephone Books in 1999 and 2008.

Purchase from Foyles and Wordery.

Fancy A Little Gothic With Your Christmas?

‘Tis the season for all things Christmas, but I for one am still thinking about Halloween and all things Gothic… partly because I love Halloween, but also because I recently did two things that have made the Gothic stick in my mind: attending the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition at The British Library, and reading the new collection of Horror Stories from Oxford University Press.

First, to the Library. Now that I live in Oxford I don’t get the opportunity to go to exhibitions in London as often as I would like, so I jumped at the chance to visit this one as part of our day out for my boyfriend’s birthday recently (we also had dinner at Gaucho Sloane – very trendy and a bit ‘clubby’, but the best steak we’ve ever eaten).

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Having studied a few Gothic novels at university, including And Radcliffe’s The Italian, I knew a little of what to expect, but the exhibition provided so much more to think about than just the early Gothic novels. From Mrs Radcliffe it takes you through the Romantic poets (both generations), Frankenstein (there’s quite a lot about the fateful night at the Villa Diadoti where the idea for Frankenstein was conceived), through Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker, and right up to twentieth century Gothic writers like Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft.

There were some beautiful and very cool ‘originals’ like an early copy of Frankenstein, a script for the film Hellraiser, a first edition of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, and letters between some of the writers I’ve mentioned. Towards the end the exhibition became more and more about film, with a focus on Hammer Horror, as well as later movies like Hellraiser as mentioned, and The Shining (for which there was also an original script with notes by Stanley Kubrick). In short it was a Gothic and horror fan’s dream. We absolutely loved it and I would highly recommend it, even if Gothic and horror aren’t really your thing (and a trip to the BL is always nice isn’t it?). The gift shop for the exhibition was also amazing!

 

In October, just in time for Halloween, Oxford University Press released a beautiful new collection of Gothic stories, simply titled Horror Stories. It has a fantastic cover, featuring a gargoyle of Thomas Becket, and it is a truly beautiful book:

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It is a beautifully finished book that you just want to take care of. It has a classic ribbon as a page marker, meaning no folded over pages or crappy old bus tickets as bookmarks. It has also pleasingly thin pages that flop over in a very satisfying way. It is ‘so Oxford’ and a book they should be proud of.

The content is as good as the production. There are stories from some of the best and most famous horror writers, including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood. But there are also writers here that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with horror, but who actually fit in rather well, namely Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling. It’s also worth noting that the stories by the more famous writers were none that I had ever heard of or read, so that added some intrigue and excitement.

This volume is also my first opportunity to read The Yellow Wall Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which is not only psychological and rather chilling, but also a groundbreaking piece of feminist literature. I’ve read it once and am sure I will have to read it again to be able fully grasp the depth of it. The narrator’s tone is so cheery throughout you could mistake it for contentedness, but as you read on, and reread certain sentences, it becomes clear she is anything but content. The ending really gripped me and I read the last couple of paragraphs more than once. There is something quite unnerving about it.

But then, unnerving is something that the Gothic does so well. It creeps us out, amazes us, draws us in, and scandalises us with its horror and glory. I have just finished reading The Raven’s Head (2015) by Karen Maitland, which was dripping with the Gothic, and it certainly did all of those things – as did all the stories in this brilliant new volume from OUP. I really recommend it as a Christmas present (as it’s so beautiful as well as brilliant) for the Gothic fan in your life – even if that’s you! It’s also a perfect example of the power of short stories, and their ability to enrapture you with deceptively simple means. I personally feel that Modernism (such as the stories of Katherine Mansfield) and Gothic are two of the best genres for short stories, and I intend to read more of both in 2015.

I’m sure there are lots of you who love short stories – why do you think they work so well? And will you be reading this new volume of Horror Stories? Or attending Terror and Wonder? It’s so good!

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Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination is on at The British Library until 20th January 2015. You can book tickets here.

Horror Stories was published in October 2014 by Oxford University Press. My thanks for the publisher for the review copy.

Capote Readathon: Short Stories (Part Two)

For those of you who have been following the Summer Capote Readathon that I’ve been doing with Kirsty of The Literary Sisters, you’ll know that we are reading from The Capote Reader – a sort of compilation of his best short work, including twelve short stories. We wrote about the first six of these at the end of July, and in August we read the second six of these. Enjoy!

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Master Misery

This story follows Sylvia, a lonely young typist in New York who takes a job just to get away from the “excruciatingly married” and rather narrow-minded couple that she lives with. That sounds simple enough, but really this is quite a surreal story – the centre of which is a man who buys dreams from people. They visit his house and sit in a waiting room and are ushered in by his assistant, Miss Mozart, rather like at a doctor’s surgery. Sylvia hears about him in a cafe and goes there only to see if she can make some money and move away from her irritating flatmates.

One her second visit she meets a man who tells her that Mr Revercomb, the man who buys dreams, should be known as Master Misery, because “all mothers tell their kids about him: he lives in the hollows of trees, he comes down chimneys late at night, he lurks in graveyards and you can hear his step in the attic. The sonofabitch, he is a thief and a threat: he will take everything you have and end by leaving you with nothing, not even a dream.” Sylvia replies that she heard of him too as a child, and remembers the stories. This man, Oreilly, and she become sort of friends, and bond over their mixed and dubious opinions of Master Misery. Over time his influence seems to help Sylvia to stop being afraid of things, of the city and the dark, of having no money. In the end she walks with her head high, “truly […] not afraid … and anyway, there was nothing left to steal.”

 

Children on Their Birthdays

In this story all the children seem to behave like adults – a Miss Bobbit is at the centre of it all, a ringleader who gets two particular boys (one of which is the narrator’s cousin) to work for her. They seem to think whoever does the best job will be chosen as her “true sweetheart” but when they mention this to Miss Bobbit she only says “sweetheart my eye”, calls them country children and asks what sort of businessmen they are going to be. All the boys seem to adore her, and she takes advantage of her status to ask for donations to finance her trip to Hollywood to become a star. She says they will all get 10% of her life’s earnings, and being so crazy about her they are more than willing to pay.

The story begins with the fact that “yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit. I’m not sure what is to be said about it; after all, she was only ten years old, still I know no one of us in this town will ever forget her.” The narrator tells us that she never did anything ordinary, and I suppose that is why she has such an effect on the town, though she is only there a year. Right at the end of the story she is waiting to travel to Hollywood, and she is distracted by the boys playing the roses, and she runs to them – and gets hit by the bus. I’m not sure if there is supposed to be a moral here – perhaps the point in that no matter how extraordinary you are, you might still get hit by a bus like anyone else?

 

A Diamond Guitar

I remember first reading this in an edition my sister had of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It takes place in a prison, described as “the farm”, where a new prisoner arrives with a rumour that he owns a guitar covered in jewels. He is assigned to ‘shadow’ one of the older and more respected prisoners, and much of the story explores their developing friendship. They eventually plan as escape, but the older prisoner, Mr Schaeffer, knows that his young friend is “a terrible liar” and would spin yarns and promise “the world” if they escape. The guitar comes to symbolise the beauty of the world outside the prison that is somehow unattainable. It is a very vivid story, and filled with beautiful descriptions and very believable characterisations. Like a lot Capote’s short stories this one is quite sad, but I didn’t find it as dark as a lot of the other stories. It’s really quite lovely to read.

 

House of Flowers

In a way House of Flowers is also about unattainable happiness. Ottilie is fourteen years old and working in a brothel in Port-au-Prince. She is selfish and vain and is happy to manipulate men to get what she wants. One day she falls in love with a boy named Royal Bonaparte that she sees at a dance, and they run off together. They get married, and go to live with his grandmother – who happens to have a reputation as a “maker of spells.” She and Ottilie immediately clash, and the grandmother soon starts leaving bits of animals in her possessions as spells, the first being the head of a cat left in Ottilie’s sewing box. Ottilie promptly drops the head into the stew the grandmother is making, and continues to do this with every animal she finds.

The grandmother comments on how good the food is, and asks Ottilie why she won’t have more – who replies that she doesn’t like cats in her stew, or spiders in her bread, or snakes in her soup. The grandmother then understands what Ottilie has done and promptly dies that afternoon – though it is not clear if it was the food or not. Ottilie soon believes that she sees the grandmother as a ghost, watching her. Her idyllic life as Royal’s wife as become dark and strange, but somehow their relationship seems to endure. It’s quite a surreal story, told with a certain distance and flippancy, and this makes it seem even more strange.

 

Among the Paths to Eden

This little story takes place entirely in a cemetery – and in some ways it is rather grim, and focussed on death. A gentleman, Mr Belli, visiting his wife’s grave is approached by a woman. They talk about their deceased family, and seem to get on well. She is a slightly odd young woman, but nice enough, and Mr Belli wonders why she is making such a point of talking to him – until she reveals that her friend has advised to look for a husband “in the obituary column”. Her friend has married twice that way, reading the obituaries of dead women and going to the cemetery to charm their widowers. It’s a strange practice, though she seems likeable enough. In the end Mr Belli manages to excuse himself, but he doesn’t actually seem that put off – maybe they will meet again one day.

 

Mojave

This is quite a late story of Capote’s, from 1975, and I think demonstrates an evolution in his storytelling. His gay characters are openly so, and the darkness that he often suggests within relationships is clear to see. Mojave is filled with damaged and unhappy relationships, which is not unique to Capote, but here the damage is more visible, the unhappiness is less tame. There is a story about an old man standing alone in the Mojave desert, who tells the story of a burlesque dancer he had an affair with, that takes up most of the text, and is quite surreal. To  me it seems like Mojave is more about a state of mind, or being, than anything else. It contains several stories within in it, separate and yet connected, and is not as simple as it sounds. But then, you could probably say that about most Capote stories.

You can see Kirsty’s post about these stories here.

Capote Readathon: Short Stories (Part One)

As part of the Capote Summer Readathon, Kirsty and I are reading the twelve short stories included in A Capote Reader. For July we have read the first six of these. They vary in length, style, and subject, and they are a joy to read. Which of these have or will you read?

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Miriam

I first read this some years ago, and luckily I had forgotten some of the details. It is very short, even for a short story, and the premise seems very simple but really when you spend more time with it you realise that it is not. The story opens with a description of Mrs Miller, a widow living alone with “no friends to speak of”.

Capote’s prose is calm and sparse, and seems to be just relaying facts whilst actually crafting an image of a life left unlived, of happiness left unfulfilled. Mrs Miller is alone in so many senses, though she seems content enough with her little life. Very quickly we have a very clear image of her current existence and the deep mundanity – and safety – of it.

She goes to the cinema one night, and a young girl, all alone, asks her to buy her a ticket. She introduces herself as Miriam, saying it as if Mrs Miller should already know, and Mrs Miller exclaims that that is her name too. After a stilted conversation Mrs Miller goes into the film, and then goes home. But Miriam soon appears at her door, demanding to be let in and asking for food. She arrives in the middle of the night and Mrs Miller is not only groggy with sleep but utterly confused as to why this child has come to her house (and how she got the address), alone and so late. Miriam is eventually persuaded to leave, but that doesn’t mean Mrs Miller won’t see her again… This is such a clever little story, and I’ve really enjoyed reading it and trying to work out what was going on and who Miriam was, and why she behaved as she did. Not one to read late at night!

 

My Side of the Matter

This is a funny little story. Our unnamed narrator tells us that an attempt has been made on his life and it’s only his word against theirs, and this story is, as the title suggests, his version of events. He is only sixteen and has recently married a girl named Marge after having known her for four days. Three months later they move in with her two aunts when they discover Margie is pregnant. One, Eunice, rules the roost, while the other, Olivia-Ann, is “a natural born half-wit and ought really to be kept in somebody’s attic.”

Eunice and Olivia-Ann take a strong dislike (putting it mildly) to our narrator the first time they see him and constantly insult him. Margie is pregnant and fretful, and does nothing to help her husband. The climax of the story comes when Eunice accuses him of stealing money from her and the situation becomes hysterical. Our narrator stays completely calm until the black maid joins in the argument, at which point he beats her over the head with an umbrella (the story is set in Alabama in 1945 – not that excuses it!). Eunice grabs her father’s Civil War sword and attacks him.

The story ends with our narrator having barricaded himself into the room, with the others knocking on the door intermittently and begging him to come out. “Oh, yes, they’ve started singing a song of a very different colour. But as for me – I give them a tune on the piano every now and then to let them know I’m cheerful.” It one of the oddest little stories I’ve ever read and I’m still not quite sure what to think of it.

 

Tree of Night

Another funny little story, but to me this one has much more depth and mystery than My Side of the Matter, which is relatively straightforward. Tree of Night takes place on a train – already we are trapped and claustrophobic, suspended between destinations and speeding towards the unknown, all at the same time. A young woman takes the only seat in a busy and litter-strewn carriage, next to a woman and her silent male companion. The young woman is polite and replies to questions, by the older woman seems intent on talking to her and is easily offended. She and her companion do not quite seem normal, the more we look at them, and we fear for the young woman’s safety. She tries to be free of them more than once, even going to stand outside by the railing, but she is compelled back to them.

Though nothing bad happens outright, there is a distinct air of unease and threat throughout this entire story, and the image of the ‘tree of night’ is very vivid and unsettling. It is not a literal tree but rather a feeling of something growing and spreading in the darkness, towering over you. There is also the fact that a tree is planted in the ground, ancient and immovable, something that little old you couldn’t destroy. It is not just in the night but of the night, a part of the darkness and something that does not belong in the light of day… I wondered if the young woman was still haunted by it after her train journey.

 

Jug of Silver

I think this story is deceptively simple. The basic idea is that when a competing drugstore opens across the street, Mr Marshall wants to draw customers in the small town back to his store, the Valhalla. So he comes up with a gimmick – a huge glass jug filled with coins. Customers must try to guess how much is in the jug, and if they are correct they win the money – and they have to buy something in order to add their guess to the list. And of course it works. The whole town comes out to try and guess the amount, spending money at the Valhalla all the while.

One customer is a boy called Appleseed, obviously very poor, who turns up with his sister Middy. They need money for their family, but also because Middy needs to get her teeth fixed if she is to fulfill her dream of being in the movies. Appleseed is strange character, small and badly dressed, badly spoken, but determined to find out how much is in the jug. He announces that he will simply count the coins, though of course he can only see the ones on the outside and no one believes he can do it. He travels three miles every day on foot (there and back) to sit in the shop and work out how much is in the jar. He doesn’t buy anything until the last day, when his brother has earned a bit of money and he can afford to officially make his guess. And do you think he was right? The whole crowd gather in the shop to find out the amount, all eager to win, and of course Appleseed is there. The story ends quite neatly, with Appleseed becoming a town legend. I think perhaps Capote is trying to make a point about faith and redemption, and in the end the story does have quite an uplifting tone. Which is rare for Capote’s short stories!

 

The Headless Hawk

After I read this story, I sat thinking about it for a while  – and I think I get it. It is one of Capote’s most complex and surreal short stories, and centres around a man, Vincent, who forms a stilted relationship with a girl who will only identify herself as DJ. He sees her on the street and at the theatre, and she then comes to the gallery where he works to sell a painting she has made. She leaves before he can pay her, and he keeps the painting – which features the headless hawk of the title – for himself. They are obviously intrigued by each other and very quickly form a sexual relationship. She seems to have barely any possessions, or anywhere to live, and she stays with him for a while.

She doesn’t speak much, but when she does it is often about someone called Mr Destronelli. She says he killed her beloved music teacher, and that he is out to get her as well. Towards the end she explains that almost all the men she has known were him – whether she thinks this literally or not is unclear. She is clearly unbalanced in some way, and by the end you think she might really be crazy. But what about Vincent?

 

Shut a Final Door

Our protagonist this time is Walter, a young man who doesn’t seem to know what he wants. He gossips behind friends’ backs and doesn’t understand why they are upset, and even sleeps with the girlfriend of his best friend without thinking anything of it. All his relationships seem to fail, and to me he seems like a very selfish, quite heartless person – but he doesn’t necessarily know that about himself.

The frame of the story is Walter arriving at a hotel in New Orleans, having travelled from New York. We don’t really learn why he is there, only that he is afraid to leave the hotel in case he gets lost – “if he got lost, even a little, then he would be lost altogether” – and lies on the bed, tormented. He pores over his failed relationships and friendships, going over and over them, but not seeming to try to and work out what he did wrong. He is a man who has made himself suffer, but does not have the self-awareness to realise it. I have to say I didn’t enjoy this story that much, but I found it very interesting and wondered what prompted its writing.

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I must say my favourite of these stories has to be Miriam – though they are all brilliant, there is something about that story that really sticks in my mind, and that I thought about long after reading. I’m eager to read more!

You can read Kirsty’s post about these stories here.

We will be posting about The Grass Harp tomorrow (31st July), and in August we will review more short stories, as well as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Summer Crossing, Capote’s early novel that was only discovered and published in 2005.