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The Doll's Alphabet

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  634 ratings  ·  138 reviews
Surreal, ambitious, and exquisitely conceived, The Doll's Alphabet is a collection of stories in the tradition of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. Dolls, sewing machines, tinned foods, mirrors, malfunctioning bodies many images recur in stories that are in turn child-like and naive, grotesque and very dark. In "Unstitching", a feminist revolution takes place. In "Waxy", ...more
Paperback, 182 pages
Published February 14th 2017 by Fitzcarraldo Editions
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Taylor Besser Grudova said in an interview (Publishers Weekly, 2017; Culture Trip, 2017) that her grandmother was a seamstress and that she was fascinated by her…moreGrudova said in an interview (Publishers Weekly, 2017; Culture Trip, 2017) that her grandmother was a seamstress and that she was fascinated by her grandmother. Grudova learned to sew as a child and found it very imaginative. She has noted that she thinks writing and sewing are very similar.
I think they are a metaphor for 1.) creativity of women and 2.) the painful intersection of curiousity and cruelty. Women shed their skins and reveal their true form as sewing machines. A spider-like man falls in love with a sewing machine and devours seamstresses in his obsession. In Grudova's stories the sewing machines are harsh and cause pain, but fundamentally require human operation. (less)

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3.89  · 
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 ·  634 ratings  ·  138 reviews

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Amalia Gavea
‘’A woman discovered that a bunch of her jewels had faces carved into them, someone else a gargoyle tattoo on their back, and a car was found with three stone kings sitting inside.’’

I had read a number of reviews and articles on Camilla Grudova’s work but I hadn’t found the chance to familiarise myself with her writing. Now that I’ve read The Doll’s Alphabet, all I can say is that I have found a new writer whose books I’ll always choose without even glancing at the blurb. This is a mesmerizing
Grudova's debut collection of short stories is strange, but wonderful. Her characters inhabit drab, gray worlds, and walk under dark, stormy skies. They seem to exist under a cloud of menace, and anything can happen in their Kafkaesque realities.

The author seems fond of sewing machines, and the devices appear in most of the tales; an odd, but apt addition is this contraption meant to free a woman from the drudgery of hand sewing that became instead an instrument of enslavement, chaining countle
This debut collection sets surreal tales of women’s inner lives against ruined cityscapes. The 13 stories are like perverted fairytales or fragmentary nightmares, full of strange recurring imagery and hazily dystopian setups. Flash fiction-length stories alternate with longer ones that move at a dizzying pace, and the book is roughly half third-person and half first-person – a balance I always appreciate.

“Unstitching,” the two-page opener, introduces the metaphors and gender politics that form t
If I was in the habit of saying 'what did I just read?' after finishing a particularly odd book, I'd certainly say it about The Doll's Alphabet. I flew through the whole of this short story collection over the course of a long train journey (I often read fiction quickly, but even I was surprised at how swiftly I made it through this) and, afterwards, felt like I'd experienced something like a sensory overload. Motifs recur so frequently throughout these strange stories that the book left me with ...more
Cinzia DuBois
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ok, so I must have just been the target audience for this book. Usually, I’m not someone who can stomach blood and gore, I’m rather prudish when it comes to sex in books, and I cannot stomach shock violence or blood. However, this collection was a magnificent blend of the grotesque and bizarre. As disturbing as it was, I never felt like I was being manipulated by a trigger happy author who just wanted to ruthlessly shock her reader.

Nothing is done for shock value - all of it has a purpose, and
Dark fairy tale dreams, each one a perfect gem. I can't wait to read Grudnova's next book.
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well, this was a MothBox pick for the Short Story month and I LOVED it. All the stories were entertaining and engaging and beautifully weird and I took down mini notes as I was reading ti so I am just going to leave them below.

I would definitely recommend this if you enjoy Magical Realism as it's filled with wonderful stories and ideas.

NOTES FROM A SPIDER - Surreal story following an 8-limbed individual who cannot find a lover like him until he spies a sewing machine of immense poise and beaut
Paul Fulcher
One afternoon, after finishing a cup of coffee in her living room, Greta discovered how to unstitch herself. Her clothes, skin and hair fell from her like the peeled rind of a fruit, and her true body stepped out. Greta was very clean so she swept her old self away and deposited it in the rubbish bin before even taking notice of her new physiognomy, the difficulty of working her new limbs offering no obstruction to her determination to keep a clean home.

She did not so much resemble a sewing mach
Marc Nash
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Described as a cross between Angela Carter & Margaret Atwood, but the story "Waxy" put me in mind of Anna Kavan, "Agata's Machine" of Kafka. But the point is that these stories are of themselves and of the author Grudova, not versions of other earlier, more established writers.

She presents an off-kilter world in each story, full of rot, decay, rodents, of dented & rusty food cans, precisely limited and rationed clothes, the centrality and repurposing of sewing machines. Smell is an impo
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe even a 4.5.

"Peter ... slicked his hair back like a young Samuel Beckett, and had the wet, squinting look of an otter." p. 5

I think it was reading that early line in this collection of thirteen (triskaidekaphobians beware!) short (sometimes VERY short) stories when I realized I had fallen under the spell of a truly different and quite special literary artist; although the uniqueness of Grudova's work was somewhat dissipated for me by the fact I read this virtually in one sitting. Read bac
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Doll's Alphabet has eleven letters:


The Doll's Alphabet is a strange, surrealist collection of stories that consistently had me wondering, “What did I just read? What does it mean?” That quote above is the entirety of the titular story: And. What. Does. That. Mean? Does it mean anything? I don't know if that particular “story”, and author Camilla Grudova's decision to name the collection after it, is meant to warn the reader off of trying to parse a deeper meaning in these tales, b
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
The Doll's Alphabet is probably the most bizarre, grotesque collection of short stories I have ever read. It's also probably one of the most unique - Grudova manages to create these mini-worlds that are almost dystopian, with plenty of magical realism elements that feel nothing like the almost out-of-the-box writing styles of so many other books of that subgenre.

Unfortunately for me though, I just didn't enjoy these worlds that Grudova created at all. I like my fiction dark and depressing, and I
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am somewhat torn between "this is so-so" and "this is complete genius". The writing is so good, though, that this ultimately had to be at least 4⭐for me. The stories are strange and often grotesque. Many have the feel of being from another time/place. Frequent appearances by sewing machines, things in tin cans, art, pregnancy and birth, and stupid, lazy and/or arrogant men. Oh! And lists. Lots of lists. And, the doll's alphabet has 11 letters; not sure why. ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I guess it was the comparisons with David Lynch that really made this jump up my to-read list: I am great fan of his movies and of Twin Peaks. And I can see where those comparisons come from. If you replace Lynch’s red curtains with rather sinister sewing machines, you are in the right ball park. Plus it feels very Eraserhead at times.

This is a collection of short stories, but the truth is that they feel like a set of views of the same, albeit bizarre and disturbing, world that the author has cr
I have serious writer envy. Such incredible world-building, so much darkness, such a command of language. I loved this book and hated it too - it has to be read in short bursts, as the stories are so intense and so unpleasant. I can't wait to read more from Grudova.
Noelia Alonso
Jul 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I enjoyed some stories more than others but in general it was a very interesting short story collection
3.5 stars.

An odd but frequently very engaging collection of short stories that lightly tread the intersecting borders of magical realism, surrealism, horror, dystopian fiction, and Kafkaesque fantasy.

Kafka is clearly an influence on these tales (the "readers guide" at the end of the book notes this explicitly) but there are also strong surrealist touches (Grudova's characters' obsession with sewing machines and their tendency to anthropomorphize them almost inevitably bring to mind Lautreamont
Barbara McEwen
4.5 stars - Yup, this is a treasure! These are some weird stories to be appreciated by weird women just waiting to unstitch themselves. Expect creepiness, and the bizarre, and a lot of long lists, which was my only minor negative really.
Varsha Ravi (between.bookends)
3.5/5 :)

Darkly inventive collection that will stay long after it's been read.
For a full review check:

I received this as a review copy from Coachhouse books, but all opinions are my own.
Grotesque, lyrical, weird, mundane, spooky. These are all words that describe this very interesting book of short fiction. My father-in-law gave it to me at the end of 2017, stating that it was difficult to find books for me. I am so glad he found *this* one, because it suits me very well. I am sure I will return to it the way I return to Angela Carter.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gorgeous and terrible, these stories move with such dreamlike ardor. The stories are all linked by imagery rather than plot or characters (a sewing machine, for instance, appears in every story--usually in some erotic context).

Very, very highly recommended.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this so much. Truly odd. So weird it gets at the most beautiful truths. If you're into that kind of reading. I will read this a few more times. I'm sure.
I adored this grotesque jewel box of a book! Most of these menacing stories take place in a dystopian world similar enough to our own to leave you disquieted. Grudova weaves recurring motifs (among them sewing machines, golden syrup, doll parts, vermin, things packed in tin) and themes (principally the systematic subjugation of women and the desire to mechanize portions of one’s body) throughout these stories, constructing a universe that appears to be the result of commonplace assumptions taken ...more
Rebecca Lloyd
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Doll’s Alphabet
While reading this extraordinary and utterly ‘feral’ set of short stories by Camilla Grudova, I was reminded of Eraserhead, David Lynch’s first feature length film. The same gritty, dark, relentlessness runs throughout Grudova’s set of stories as it does so beautifully in Eraserhead. The Doll’s Alphabet also brought to my thinking the fabulous and twisted paintings on glass by Katie Timoshenko, one of which hangs in my hallway and frightens my grandson when he stays in the hou
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
The blurb likens this beautifully presented book of short stories to the work of Angela Carter, which I both agree and disagree with. Aesthetically, there are strong similarities; both are ornately macabre. Philosophically, I found in Grudova’s stories little of Carter’s clever social commentary. My favourite of the collection, ‘Waxy’, was a dark little satire on gender roles, but the others presented grotesque imagery and strange happenings without investing them with a great deal of meaning. I ...more
Sam (Clues and Reviews)
The Doll’s Alphabet, the upcoming short story collection by Camilla Grudova, was something completely different from anything I have encountered recently. These stories, thirteen in total, are dark and eerie with some sort of childlike quality about them; they are almost fairy tale like in nature; each story sending a message and all provoking caution. I was bewildered while I was reading. I found myself continuously pondering that perhaps I wasn’t smart enough to “get” these stories and spendin ...more
Natalie (CuriousReader)
The Doll’s Alphabet is a short story collection of the weird, fantastical and bizarre. Within these stories you will find reoccurring images and objects like sewing machines, tinned foods, dolls, wolves, and more. While each short story stands on its own, there are apparent parallels between them so that not only is certain objects binding the stories together but there’s even at times what seemed to me, shadows of people from other stories – swiftly passing by in the periphery. In many of the s ...more
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book of absolute nightmares, I can't imagine I'll have normal dreams for a month. I probably shouldn't have enjoyed this as much as I did...
Sofia Sears
Feb 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Hmm... lots of thoughts on this one. Beautiful, uncanny language. But reminds me of, weirdly, the 'gestures' I'd start my figure drawing classes with... sweeping flicks of the hand that conceive light charcoal lines, outlining or grazing the essence of the model without really expressing the body completely. Does that make any sense? These stories lacked something for me. A culmination, I guess? Not that all stories need that, but I was just left wanting so much more. Grudova's writing is so une ...more
🐴 🍖
the angela carter comparison is way off-base -- think more along the lines of kate bernheimer getting jumped in a dark alleyway by joanna ruocco and dame darcy -- but, blurb accuracy aside, this was a real hoot for the most part & anyone whose proverbial motor is gotten running by the aforementioned owes it to themselves to check this out, "agata's machine" in particular. 10 demerits tho for the end of "waxy" using an episode of sexual violence strictly outta narrative expediency, which, yuc ...more
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Camilla Grudova lives in Toronto. She holds a degree in art history and German from McGill University, Montreal. Her fiction has appeared in the White Review and Granta.