readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Little Black Book of Stories – A.S. Byatt ****

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I’ve read several of Byatt’s books – mostly because the covers tend to be irresistible. Until now, I’ve always found them to be good, but not amazing. This slim book of short stories is definitely my favorite of her work that I’ve read so far – perhaps I should go out of my way to find more of her short work!
Although advertised as ‘fairy tales’ these works are more ‘inspired by’ fairy tales than actual fairy tales. Well. Kinda sorta.  I would recommend this to people who enjoyed Angela Carter’s ‘Bloody Chamber.’

The Thing In The Forest
This is a wonderful story. It’s also genuinely horrific, creepier and more disturbing than many so-called ‘horror’ tales. Two little girls, sent away from London during the Blitz (I wonder if anyone’s ever done a count of just how many stories feature this plot element), encounter the titular thing. Later, we see how that one day has affected them, even as adults.

Body Art
OK, this story was beautifully written… and obviously, the author was intentionally going for a lot of moral ambiguity here. But I cannot get behind the story’s seeming message that if you just force a pregnant woman who is obviously not mentally, emotionally, or financially at a point where she wants to have a child, to give birth, she will fall in love with her baby and everything will work out for the best. OH NO. Still… the art made with the stolen medical/historical stuff? Wow.

A Stone Woman
Here, Byatt takes the common metaphor of being turned to stone, and turns it on its head. Here, turning to stone is not becoming lifeless or numb, but becoming strangely beautiful, oddly more alive, more in tune with the ancient rhythms of the earth.

Raw Material
Byatt’s taught writing at some point, hasn’t she? She must have. The portrayals of the amateur creative writing students here are hilarious.. and their criticisms of the one possible talented student heartbreaking. The eventual result? Horrifying.

The Pink Ribbon
Another really tragic story, about a man attempting to deal with his wife’s Alzheimer’s. Very well done, very sad.

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