I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the author.
“Artefacts and Other Stories” by Rebecca Burns is a collection of short stories. Set largely in the UK, many of the stories are set before, during or in the aftermath of World War I. These are stories of ordinary people with jobs, families, memories and traumas as much as they are about the people who have left them behind.
The short story is a tricky art form, but Burns’ vignettes are compelling. Each story tackles the delicacy of human life and the fragile beauty of love, and finishes on its own unique and poignant note. Burns uses objects and everyday events to explore the complexities of human emotion, and some of my favourite stories in the collection were “The Last Game, August 2014”, “The Bread Princess” and “The Greatcoat”. “Artefacts” also stuck with me long after I had finished the book.
I do think some of the stories were stronger than others. Burns has a real knack for capturing the tone of early 1900s England and those historical fiction stories about the tragedy and futility of war really stood out.
If you enjoy short stories, or are fascinated by World War I history, then I think you’ll get something out of these.
HarperCollins the publisher was running a bit of a Christmas special and had this book available to read for free. In fact, I think it still is available for free. It has been a while since I read a Jackie French book, and while I whipped through it before Christmas, my intentions on having this review ready for Christmas were sadly not fulfilled. So, here it is, slightly late: my review.
“With Love from Miss Lily: A Christmas Story” is a short story by Jackie French set shortly after the first novel in her “Miss Lily” series called “Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies”, about the contribution of society ladies to World War I. This short story takes place in France during winter. A hospital is running low on supplies, patients are dying of influenza, and head nurse Sophie is worried that she won’t be able to have the ceasefire Christmas she was hoping for. However, between the dying old woman who won’t stop furiously knitting, the handsome captain and the help from Miss Lily, somehow Christmas makes it after all.
This is a very short but touching story that manages to weave a bit of history, feminism, family, friendship and even a dash of romance altogether. I really enjoyed reading it on my drive down to my own family Christmas and I am a bit intrigued about the rest of the series.
I think I’ll finish the review here because it’s such a short story, I’m at risk of writing a longer review than story. Sorry I didn’t get this up in time for Christmas!
This book has been sitting on my to-read pile since my dad lent it to me at New Year’s. I thought the first eponymous story was just one of several short stories but it actually is more like a novella with several shortish stories afterwards. I toyed with the idea of just reading the first one, but the completionist in me won and I finished the book.
“The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil” by George Saunders is a novella about a micro and fictional country called Inner Horner which is only big enough to hold one citizen at a time. The remaining six citizens wait their turn in the short term residency zone of the surrounding country of Outer Horner. One day, with no warning, Inner Horner shrinks and only 1/4 of the current citizen in residence is now able to fit. Opportunistic Outer Hornerite Phil declares this event an invasion and disaster for the Inner Hornerites ensues. Tacked onto the end of this novella is “In Persuasion Nation” which is a collection of short stories mostly centred around themes of advertising and television.
The novella is a really interesting story that walks a fine line between satire and surrealism. Saunders takes an issue of incredible complexity (border control), and simplifies it down into its most basic and wacky elements. This story could really apply to any place or any time (and I can think of a few places right now) where internal pressures outside their control force people to leave their country and some unlikely megalomaniac uses that as as springboard to ascend to power. Saunders is a very imaginative writer with a keen eye for the ridiculous. The rest of the short stories were a bit more of a mixed bag. I really enjoyed some of them, especially “my flamboyant grandson”, but some of the others were a bit too abstract or a bit too blunt in their messaging.
“The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil” is a timeless reminder that success shouldn’t be achieved by taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune. Even though this story was first published in 2005, it would have applied just as easily in 1945 as it does today.
I received this book as a gift from a friend of mine who picked it up for me on a trip home to Sri Lanka. He knew that I was trying to read more diversely, and I do believe this is possibly my first book by a Sri Lankan author.
“The Good Little Ceylonese Girl” by Ashok Ferrey is a collection of short stories about Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan diaspora and named after one of the stories contained within. The stories range in location from Italy to England, from India to Somalia and are interconnected by the common threads of Sri Lankan heritage and otherness in a country not your own.
Ferrey is a perceptive and humorous writer who is fond of puns and the double entendre. His diverse life experience shines through in this multifaceted book and he expertly captures the voices of Sri Lankans from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds. I particularly enjoyed the story that explores a same-sex inter-cultural relationship and the story set in Somalia. Ferrey explicitly discusses the impact of the Boxing Day Tsunami on the national consciousness with two stories. However, although the vast majority of his characters are living overseas, I found it interesting that Ferry doesn’t ever directly reference the Sri Lankan civil war (although I think as an Australian, a lot of his references went over my head, so perhaps he did in a more subtle way).
Although Ferrey is a strong writer, I did feel that his endings were a bit off-beat. The short story really excels on an ending of either extreme poignancy or an incredible twist, and I felt as though despite the fluid prose, a lot of the endings fell a bit flat. Despite Ferrey’s convincing voice in his many female characters, the vast majority of his stories seemed to hinge on women being underhanded in some way, be it by lying, stealing, poisoning or misleading. I found this a bit frustrating and sameish, and I thought his endings could have been a lot punchier than they were.
Nevertheless, a quick, intelligent and insightful read.