I've spent the better part of this year reading Persephone Books #100, The Persephone Book of Short Stories. It would have been fitting had there been one hundred stories, but even with only thirty I feel like I have gotten my money's worth out of this volume. The stories are arranged chronologically by the year each was published. Quite a few of the authors included in the collection are Persephone authors, so if there is a story a reader particularly likes, there may well be a corresponding book somewhere in the Persephone catalog. A few stories I had read before, but many were completely new to me (either story or author and sometimes both).
It's interesting to think where I started and where I have finished up. I was thinking that I might be able to recognize trends and subject matter, as I read the stories in the order they appear in the book (though it's not really required--a reader could easily dip into the stories in any sort of order). In some cases it's obvious the concerns on an author's mind depending on which year/decade they were written. The first story, which I read all the way back in January, was written in 1909 and concerns a young woman just beginning her career and the man she believes she loves. It's a story of unrequited love. But my how time has passed and how far I have, as a reader, have traveled considering the last story, which I will briefly describe below.
This past week I read the final four stories. Aside being on a roll, I was ready to finish reading and prepare to move on to my ghost stories and general tales of murder and suspense (next week!), so it's time to wrap up here. I usually read and write about the story fairly close together, so hopefully I'll be able to remember something about each story I can share.
First up is Diana Athill's "The Real Thing" published in 1958. I like Diana Athill. I liked her when I read Stet, a memoir of her years in publishing. But I think I like her fiction equally as well. And this might well be one of my very favorite stories in the whole collection, not least since it was so pleasing to read. It's a story of growing up, first experiences, first crushes. It's quite nostalgic and shows a different side to domestic life. It's not a story of a woman beaten down by time and circumstances but a story of a young woman just starting out. It felt fresh and alive and appealing. There was that moment of epiphany for a young girl growing up that was really pleasant to read about.
I had already come across Elizabeth Spencer before in a lost in the stacks post, so it was nice to finally get a real taste of her writing. "A Bad Cold" published in 1967 is another story that is lighter and even a little playful. It's another domestic situation, but it's a story of a married couple who enjoy each others' company and after years of being married and despite the daily worries and small preoccupations find they are still in love with each other.
I've not read nearly enough of Penelope Fitzgerald's work (though I loved The Bookshop) and didn't even realize she wrote short stories. Her 1983 story, "World Apart" is set some time after WWII. A Polish refugee takes up residence with a seemingly widowed mother and her daughter, renting a room from them. Punctilious and unobtrusive, he's no bother. He also seems to be "almost as a definition of loneliness". Another story of love or attraction, a story of a woman not used to behaving in quite such a way. It's a story of a woman with secrets, who normally conducts her life sensibly until someone comes along and shows her a different way of feeling. A bit melancholic things are open-ended in the end making me wonder just how their lives turned out.
If over time some stories fade from memory and I need to look back on my posts to recall what each was about, I think Georgina Hammick's 1986 story, "A Few Problems in the Day Case Unit" is going to remain with me for some time and quite vividly. This is a very 'in your face' sort of story and one that made me uncomfortable and even at times squirm along the way. And it is not through lack of understanding or sympathy, but from actual experience that I occasionally shuddered along the way as I read. Probably every woman has a horror story or two when it comes to visiting the gynecologist. Lettice Pomfrey has her fair share--mishandled, prodded and made to feel like a task that needs to be completed rather than a patient deserving of time and sensitivity. Yes, that is what this story is about! In vivid detail as a matter of fact. It did make me shudder, and despite the uncomfortable nature of the story, it's actually quite brave of Hammick to write about it.
It's quite a journey from first story to last. So many subjects and situations are written about--nearly every aspect of a woman's life and what better collection than this to reflect the range of topics that Persephone Books deal with.
If you like short stories, or you like the sorts of stories Persephone Books publishes, I highly recommend this collection. I've thoroughly enjoyed my weekly forays into the pages of this book. It was a little sad to turn the last page, but I am sure I'll find some other worthy (short story) reads to fill my Sundays. For September and October, prepare to hear about a few ghost stories or stories of crime and suspense. I have yet to pull my anthologies out (this week!), but I am ready for a few chills and thrills. Now if the weather would cooperate (I can do without these near 100F/37C days personally), I could slide very easily into Autumn-mode!