I’ve often discussed my difficult relationship with the short story and have concluded that on the whole I much prefer a novel where the author has time to develop the characters or alternatively say something important rather than entertain me for a short while. Of course, like novels, all short stories are different some appearing in compendiums of different authors on a theme while others are chosen to reflect the different styles of a single author but of course they can consist of anything and everything else in between. In William Boyd’s The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth the reader is treated to a loose association of stories that celebrate, or perhaps that should be denigrate the life of those who are ‘artists’, with most of the stories including the one that claims the title of this collection looking at the world of those who make their living out of the world of art. And, I enjoyed each and everyone. This time there was no feeling that the story despite being perfectly formed was a mere snack that stimulated rather than satiated my appetite, I can firmly say that William Boyd has given me cause to view the form with a renewed enthusiasm.
My favourite story of all was the last in a the book, where Alec Dunbar, a film actor is called to an audition for a film with an embargoed script only to find out that in a case of mistaken identity the actual auditionee should have been a young female called Alexa Dunbar. Then in a twist of fate, the actor is offered a job driving a cask of holy water to a remote part of Scotland for a christening by another actress who can’t deliver it herself as she has a broken ankle. He takes the job for a price and soon finds himself in all manner of bother, planning his next move using inspiration from previous film scripts. The reader therefore gets a sense of where Alec Dunbar is in his career by the curious snippets, films about a SAS film reminded him of the car he was to drive on the mammoth journey soon morph into a short memory of some t’ai chi learnt on a Samurai movie later switching to a sentimental WWII movie. This inspired format keeps the theme of actors running through what is a farcical tale which I’m not sure I would have engaged with if I hadn’t spent my time becoming thoroughly immersed in the world of artists, their single-minded simultaneous over-confidence and crushing self-doubt that I’d enjoyed during the preceding stories.
The title story is a novella and also brilliantly executed while it examines of a relatively short period of time in the life of an aspiring actress, or perhaps photographer, whereby Bethany’s dreams are adapted to the situation she finds herself in. This tale managed to elicit some sympathy and even a little admiration for her even while the sensible voice in my head is urging her to see these unrealistic dreams for what they are before her life spirals too far in a downward direction.
With the book headed up by some far shorter but delightfully pithy tales there is an awful lot to enjoy in William Boyd’s collection and it has prompted me to look out some of his novels since he had dropped off my radar for some explicable reason.
I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for allowing me to read an ARC of The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth ahead of publication on 2 November 2017, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 2 November 2017
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No. of Pages: 256
Genre: Short Story Amazon UK Amazon US
This may be a short story but it is a disquieting one to say the least. Based upon the author’s experience in the late 1800’s when diagnosed by a physician of a nervous disease she was prescribed ‘rest cure’ which meant that she was to stay in bed all day and only allowed mental stimulation for two hours a day… this led to a near total mental decline.
The story features a young woman who has a baby, although he or she, is kept well ‘off-page’ as the subject who has moved into an old house with a creepy feel to it as she lies in a room with yellow peeling wallpaper.
The journal entries written by the woman in the bed, written in secret to hide them from her physician husband, who has diagnosed her with a nervous disease and banned her from leaving the house or having any mental stimulation.
Alone in the room the woman sees first patterns and then more disturbing things in the yellow on the wall which mirror the stretching and then the breaking of her mind although the ending is cleverly left open to interpretation.
The author wrote the story to warn others against rest cures but it has come to be viewed as one of the earliest examples of feminist writing and I can’t disagree. Somehow you can’t imagine a healthy man struggling with a new role in life being told to go to his room until he felt better!!
This is one of those stories that make me truly grateful that I was born when I was!
This is a compilation of five novellas each demonstrating the different ways those who seek to manipulate others operate. The author has used a number of different types of relationships to expose the psychology of such a partnership and although the end results are disturbing, it is often the case that the beginning there were no great big warning lights and claxons.
Although the tie in this anthology is the manipulator the characters are quite distinct, as to a certain extent is there particular brand of abuse. In the first tale we meet the narcissist old and ill in a hospital bed and his story alternates with his visitor. This clever tale gives us a picture of a life lived bending other’s to this man’s will using any means possible to reach his object, reflecting on a life right back to childhood. In the second story Tess and the Tattoos we have an elderly woman contemplating the choices she’s made in her life whilst the third, The Spell has younger characters, a woman, a man and a young child which is once more a reflective tale. The fourth story is Runaway Girl, and probably my favourite of the collection has a 15 year old girl as the subject whilst the last story is the story of a woman who comes to motherhood fairly late in life.
The author has clearly researched her subjects, one has to hope from a safe distance and as all of these stories are reflective it is entirely appropriate that the traits we know are associated with manipulators are replayed by the narrative although I have to confess this reflective nature made me feel less involved with the actual events because the very nature of recollection is to put a spin on things to be told ‘I should have realised…’ didn’t adequately give me any sense of when the realisation came, what the subject told themselves through those first signs etc but this is a personal preference possibly due to wanting to know whether I would have spotted anything, given the same situation.
What this book does give us is a chance to relate this wide selections of both the perpetrators of this trait and their victims to those characters we all know for whom this style is the one they prefer and of course in certain situations it is one that is held in high regard. Only yesterday a job advert went out with one of the key skills was ‘An influencer’ now putting aside the business jargon, what the company wants is someone who can persuade a whole room full of people (if not the entire office, company and maybe even the world) to be persuaded that what is being proposed is the only right course of action – the same skill as a man convincing a woman that of course she wants to be at his beck and call to the detriment of the rest of her life, or the young boy who convinces his mother that he can do no wrong!
Sometimes it is hard for authors working on a themed collection like this to separate the voices out and I was a little worried when we came to Runaway Girl who was much younger than the rest of the characters in the book, would the author be able to switch away from the almost cold and distant narratives of the previous narrators to the naturally more impulsive actions of a teenager, and she did, which is possibly why I enjoyed this story the most as the mixed emotions of the moment came shining through.
I’d like to thank the author for forwarding me a copy of this book, it has been a unique experience for me as I rarely read novellas and never before have I read an anthology built around a personality type.
First Published UK: 28 June 2016
Publisher: Independent Publishing
No of Pages: 274
Genre: Short Story – Psychological Amazon UK Amazon US
This anthology was published in memory of Maxine Clarke, a prolific and knowledgeable book blogger and one who evidently inspired much affection in her on-line presence, so much so that a group of bloggers recommend books on the blog Petrona Remembered which is well worth checking out if you enjoy crime fiction. The proceeds of the sale of this book go to the Princess Alice Hospice which cares for people suffering from terminal illnesses from a wide area covering, London, Middlesex and Surrey.
This book of short stories comprises of nine well-executed and appealing stories with a strong bent towards the arts and particularly the world of writing. In the very first story The Agency meet Stella Prentice who works on True Life Mystery, a crime magazine whose editor’s suspicious death becomes the subject of a police investigation. Later on in the book Margot Kinberg who I exchange messages with frequently through her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, illustrates the dangerous life of a publisher in one of her two submissions, The In-Box, a tale exquisitely revealed partly in email correspondence.
There are also contributions by household names including the established writer, Martin Edwards whose story aptly named Captain Hastings has a number of references to the most popular crime fiction, including the title’s namesake. Sarah Ward who blogs at Crimepieces and whose debut novel In Bitter Chill is another book that is on the TBR because it sounds excellent. Sarah’s contribution to this collection is La Lotte which has a historical link, something that I find very hard to resist.
I have to admit I’m not a big consumer of short stories, but this collection has a wide range of styles, very short pieces ranging to quite long ones, themes covering jealousy, greed, lust and revenge to name but a few of the motives, and of course because so many of the stories are set around the world of publishing,I had an instant interest subject matter plus the lowly blogger gets the odd mention too! All good stuff but best of all many of the stories include a level of humour that makes them incredibly readable.
So in conclusion a fantastic concept of a book for what sounds like a very special lady indeed, added to that this book has been published to support a great cause but hasn’t lost sight of the fact that us book-lovers want well-written, suspenseful and engaging stories. This little package has it all.
Well Broadchurch season two is now over although the viewers have been promised another series… I really don’t know where they can take this next but can guarantee that I will be watching.
This the last short book to accompany the series takes the reader right back to Alec Hardy’s entrance to Broadchurch which provides the perfect way of finishing this superb look at the various characters that inhabit Broadchurch.
This book shows us what we didn’t see at the beginning of series one, we see Alec hiding Claire, his ill-health in view, the sleepy town being the perfect place for him to finally uncover the truth of what happened at Sandbrook all in thirteen hours.
I have really enjoyed this series, Erin Kelly has managed to pack lots of detail and depth to each of the characters featured and I for one am going to sorely miss my weekly fix.
So we are now nearing the end of the TV series and the pace is still fast and furious, the prosecution and the defence have done their worst with their closing speeches, the judge has reminded the jurors that the defence doesn’t have to prove anything, that is up to the prosecution. The jurors leave to deliberate and they file back into court… meanwhile we the viewers are still trying to work out what exactly happened in Sandbrook are Hardy and Miller going to be able to solve the mystery before the end of the second series?
So to the book, and as anyone who has watched the series will know Claire clearly knows more about Sandbrook than she’s given up so far and this short story goes way back, before she left Wales and once again Erin Kelly has come up with a believable back story. I like the way the author has kept the character authentic, not the same, not the repeat of a past episode but behaviour absolutely in line with the more mature Claire that we have been seeing on our TV screens.
Having enormously enjoyed, and looked forward to, these shorts every Tuesday I will be bereft when I read the final episode next week and will be searching for a replacement to treat myself with.
This book released to follow episode six of the ITV series is the most clearly entwined of the whole series, read this before watching and you’ll miss the most shocking part of the episode.
This is Beth’s story and so naturally it covers her life, juggling attending the court with a ten-day-old baby. I’m sure this story will resonate with mother’s the world over and Beth has more reason than most to feel torn in too many directions. The court case takes another twist and we hear what happened when the camera cut away.
There is far more detail in this one than the previous short stories, I really felt that this story offered a clear insight into Beth’s life, her relationship with Mark, Chloe and the other members of the close-knit community of Broadchurch.
I had a minor panic Tuesday morning as I thought I’d left a wifi zone without downloading this episode, thankfully all was in order and I was able to enjoy my coffee with this excellent short story.
Well another episode of the second series of Broadchurch and once again the focus is as much on what happened to the missing girls in Sandbrook as it was about the ongoing trial. This week the defence had a disappointing day in court when the failure to research the actions of their witness before putting them on the stand.
With a clear link to the TV series this week’s book is a behind the scenes look at Sharon Bishop, the defence lawyer. This short, I still would have preferred these books to be slightly longer, gives us an insight into Sharon’s life outside the court setting. We have seen her visit a prison on-screen, here we find out why. We also get filled in on the history between her and the prosecution barrister, Jocelyn as I’m sure like me you are wondering if this is a straight case of two very competitive women, or whether their history has made this court-room battle an exceptional one.
I am still really enjoying these shorts which give a little more flesh to those characters who have featured strongly in the episode on TV the next morning.
Well this addition to the Broadchurch TV series just gets better and this time I think those of us that are reading the excerpts got an insight that those haven’t will miss out on. Why? Well this weeks episode tells the story from Tess, Alec Hardy’s wife. In this week’s episode we met her for the first time, being hostile to Alec’s continued obsession with the Sandbrook case where there were two missing girls, one a young girl and one a teenager.
The indications in this book that Tess was somewhat distracted at the time of the disappearance of the girls and Alec, right from the start was working all the hours, hardly seeing his wife so all-encompassing was his desire to find the girls and solve the mystery of why and how they disappeared. We already know that the trial collapsed and the chief suspect’s wife is undergoing an unconventional witness protection scene at Broadchurch. This book, well-written and enlightening gives the reader an insight into the motivation behind this bizarre decision.
I’d give this one the full five stars but the books are just a little too short to fully justify a top rating.
I am a big Peter James fan with each one of his Roy Grace series being on my list of must purchase on publication date books. I’m not however a big fan of short stories although I admire those that are well-written but I don’t feel I get the same sense of satisfaction as reading a full-length novel.
Within this book there are thirty stories which is quite a collection including two Roy Grace stories, including one from his early days as a Detective Constable and a more recent Christmas outing when he helps out policing big entrance on Brighton Pier by parachuting in to deliver presents to children from a local hospice. There is also a short story which was the basis of the very first Roy Grace book Dead Simple.
There is also a collection which showcases the supernatural themes that grace other Peter James novels including a couple of true stories told to him by a local clergyman. I didn’t know that the Anglican Church officially employed a Minister of Deliverance who visits haunted houses, these stories even had this sceptic nearly convinced. Other themes include plenty of comeuppance for those entering into extra marital affairs, a fairly bleak look at the loss of shine in long-term marriages and a few that I’m convinced were moral boosters when the author turned forty (highlighted by the similar sentiments in two adjacent stories.) There are very short stories, less than a page and longer more in depth ones, and only one which I didn’t take to at all.
This is a great book to dip in and out of as a quick read and some of the twists quite unexpected, the last story in particular was quite gruesome but in most any harm done is off-stage so not too upsetting for gentler souls to read before going to sleep.
Many of these stories appeared in Short Shockers One and Short Shockers Two although I’m reliably informed that there are some new stories included. I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan ahead of publication date of 6 November 2014.