I purchased this some time ago, and it's been waiting patiently on my bookshelves before being tossed into my suitcase as a last minute back-up holidaI purchased this some time ago, and it's been waiting patiently on my bookshelves before being tossed into my suitcase as a last minute back-up holiday read. Upon starting it, I cursed myself for ignoring it for so long, because right from the opener (Harold Brodkey's "First Love and Other Sorrows") this collection is short-story writing at its best. As Jeffrey Eugenides explains in his introduction, he has not selected stories where the lovers are instantly fulfilled and live happily ever after. In his view, "the happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims - these are lucky eventualities but they aren't love stories ... love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name." Here, then, we see love as suffering, love as missed opportunity, as a beautiful dream which can never be played out, due to the impossible circumstances of real life. Eugenides has chosen teenages unable to consummate their lust, and placed them next to middle-aged marrieds unable to afford divorce, a lodgers who becomes smitten with his landlord's wife, and a husband who loses his wife's love to Alzheimer's disease.
My personal favourites were Deborah Eisenburg's "Some Other, Better Otto" and Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" - Eugenides calls these the bleakest of the collection (although to my mind Denis Johnson's "Dirty Wedding" and David Gates' "The Bad Thing" are far bleaker, far harder to reconcile with my own understanding of the term "love.") George Saunder's "Jon" I had come across before, but re-read and with great admiration. I have to confess to abandoning both Nabokov's "Spring in Fialta" and Robert Musil's "Tonka"; perhaps I just couldn't cope with shift in style. My lack of enjoyment of these stories is my only reason for rating this collection as a four-star read; but the remaineder I found though-provoking, often exquisitely written, and sometimes profoundly moving. ...more
The content of the best of the stories in this collection has stayed with me since I read them a couple of weeks ago. In "Dark Eden", an incompatibleThe content of the best of the stories in this collection has stayed with me since I read them a couple of weeks ago. In "Dark Eden", an incompatible couple find themselves stranded on a sun-less planet and are forced to consider their own insignificance - and that of humanity - in the context of a vast universe. In "Karel's Prayer", Beckett plays with the idea of "field induced copies" (created from "the precise imprint of [the:] body on the suface of space time"), and whether the copy, who has no rights, has any responsibilities to the original. And in "The Marriage of Sea and Sky" an arrogant author, part anthropologist and part travel writer, sets down on a new planet which he intends to exploit for further fame. In his quest for new material and his desire to make all he encounters fit his theories, he grossly misreads a social situation and finds himself forced to go native...
I saw a positive review of Chris Beckett's collection in one of the broadsheet weekend sections and ordered myself a copy with high expectations, which have on the whole been met. The collection includes a few loosely linked stories set in future Londons with recurring characters, interspersed with standalone works, and fuse the sociological/psychological though-experiment elements of what is sometimes referred to as "speculative fiction" with the harder, cyber elements of specific techologies of the future. Most are generally well-executed, but I had the feeling that a more literary-minded editor might have polished them into truely five star works of fiction. The collection is also slightly let down by some poor proof-reading. But I have no doubt that I will be re-reading it, and will seek out more of Beckett's work. ...more
Kate Clanchy's memoir of her friendship with Antigona examines what happens when the expectations and experiences of a North London poet collide withKate Clanchy's memoir of her friendship with Antigona examines what happens when the expectations and experiences of a North London poet collide with those of a Kossovan Albanian woman who is newly arrived in the UK. Antigona is everything the Daily Mail hates: an asylum-seeker (and, moreover, one who may not have been truthful in her asylum claim), a cash-in-hand worker who evades taxes and uses a false identity, a single mother. Kate is struck immediately by the force of Antigona's character, and her obvious personal strength. Seeing that Antigona is in financial need, she offers her a job, initially as her cleaner and later as her nanny. A deep friendship develops between the two women, yet the cultural divide can never truly be bridged. As Kate learns about the truly horrendous-sounding "Kanun of Lek" (the ancient mountain code of blood feuds and honour killings in which Antigona has been raised), her admiration grows as she contemplates Antigona's escape from a system where women are literally their husband's possessions, and in which domestic violence and rape at the hands of one's husband is accepted as normal. Yet as Antigona's daughters approach adulthood it is clear that the Kanun is still within her, dictating her feelings about what is acceptable behaviour for young women. Meanwhile, Kate contemplates a number of uncomfortable questions: what makes it right for her, as a relatively wealthy woman with a professional husband, to be able to purchase hours of another woman's life so that she can have "me time"? And if this also facilitates "quality time" with Kate's children, what of Antigona's own children and the time taken away from them? Clanchy explodes Germaine Greer's 1970 arguement that "brilliant women" must be freed up from childcare, by asking: what of the women who perform this service? What if they too have the capability to be "brilliant", but have lacked the opportunities to develop their talents (Antigona learns languages effortlessly, but is barely literate, school being considered an unnecessary luxury for girls who are destined for marriage and farming)? As a woman who has handed my children over to under-educated nursery workers, and stay-at-home mothers raising extra cash through childminding, so that I can go off to the office where I do my interesting job, I too squirm in contemplating these issues. This book manages to engage with tough questions of this nature whilst also being a touching and compelling description of Clanchy's empathy with Antigona, and the impact of violence and control on Antigona's life. ...more