Book Review: False River, by Paula Morris

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_false_riverThis is a very sophisticated collection of short stories, which sit comfortably together. While many have been previously published in magazines, or read on radio, bringing them together allows the reader to appreciate the true depth of Morris’s writing. The title story, False River was a finalist in the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award in the UK, and Morris is no stranger to awards for her writing.

I am not a regular reader of short stories as once I have sorted out characters and setting, I prefer to settle in for a long read. But this collection allowed me to enter each world quickly and with minimal fuss as I became engrossed by the stories. It was a revelation.

Morris knows her settings. Be it New Orleans, Mexico or Latvia, we are quickly immersed in a familiar world where small details add depth. Some stories deal with relationships such as the delightful story Isn’t It. Here we have the Auckland housing crisis meeting family mourning. The meeting of these two worlds is beautifully portrayed.

A well-chosen black and white photo follows some stories. I like the inclusion of visual art within the written text as it adds another layer for the reader. However, I was a little disappointed at the cover of the collection. The dark blue, understated cover did not live up to the quality of the stories and artwork within the  book. Even the endpapers were more creative.

I really enjoyed this collection: it seems, after a thirty-year standoff with short stories, Paula Morris has lured me back. I would pick the book up to read one story, and then sneak another too. Of course, this meant I was running late!

This is the perfect summer read. A sleep, a swim or even a small wine could follow each story.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

False River
by Paula Morris
Published by Vintage
ISBN 9780143771630

 

 

Book Review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, by Hilary Mantel

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_assassination_of_margaret_thatcher

Hilary Mantel is the first woman to receive the Booker Prize twice. The third installment of her Cromwell trilogy, titled The Mirror and the Light, is set to be published in 2015. Mantel’s recent collection of short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, is not historic in the same swashbuckling sense as her well-known Cromwell trilogy. However, Mantel does at times meddle with recent historical characters, including of course ex-British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

The title story was originally commissioned by the Telegraph newspaper a couple of years ago. The topic of Margaret Thatcher is obviously polarizing. Those who grew up or lived through the 80’s will remember vivid TV footage of miner’s strikes, hunger strikes and factory closures, Thatcher’s handbag and venomous serpent teeth, and the patronizing accent. At the time, she was the most hated woman in England. She even inspired Punk.

The collection begins with an intrusion, in Sorry to Disturb. A business man in a claustrophobic Middle Eastern country bursts into the apartment of an ex-pat Brit and a ‘friendship’ develops. The final story features an intrusion of another kind, when an assassin fakes his way into a woman’s flat, pretending to be a plumber. In this, a strange Stockholm syndrome relationship develops, over cups of tea and sympathy. The IRA shooter is only interested in his quarry – but then so is the flat’s owner. She’s not really a victim and she’s not aiding or abetting either. So what is she? The story presents a simple dilemma that just seems to arrive uncontrived and leave unresolved. Like life.

The stories in the collection date back to 2009 and several have been published previously. Comma is about childhood cruelty. Harley Street has slight lesbian overtones in a professional setting. Winter Break plays out like the Madeline McCann case in reverse, with a childless couple implicated in the murder of a child in the picturesque Greek Islands. Then there’s the most disturbing story, The Heart Fails Without Warning. Mantel constructs the final image of a spectral girl holding a ghostly white dog, out of an anorexic teenager, doglike hair growing on her face. This haunting image is juxtaposed against the girl’s father’s interest in porn – featuring naked girls on dog leads. The story is perplexing. Mantel likes to twist perceptions and play with expectations. Her short stories are punchy vignettes that take the reader from Saudi to Greece, challenging our assumptions along the way.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is not just a placeholder until Mantel finishes her next Cromwell installment. Short stories are like itches that need to be scratched. And this book provides a near-perfect scratching session. It’s a fine collection – Mantel’s short stories are perfect for train journeys and lunch breaks, or for those moments you snatch to relieve intellectual irritations.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9780007580972

Words of the day: Tuesday, 8 October 2013

words_of_the_day_graphicThis is a digest of our Twitter feed (now with a new title) that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
You can find all Readings Books’ reviews of October new releases right here

Author interviews
‘Don’t be afraid to write a bad book’: an interview with David Levithan, author of Every Day and Two Boys Kissing 

Bestselling author @john_boyne talks about his latest book, Stay Where You Are And Then Leave

Immensely excited about the new Shaun Tan book, Rules of Summer

Extracts
Read an extract from Jung Chang’s controversial new book Empress Dowager Cixi:   @TelegraphBooks

Abbie Napier shares the stories of three Canterbury dogs, as told in Quake Dogs by Laura Sessions and Craig Bullock

Book News
Bloomsbury Has Introduced an eBook Imprint Called Bloomsbury Spark 

‘…and from Richard Ellmann I learned the art of a good footnote.’ Bridget Williams profiled in the Otago Magazine

In the digital era, content trumps platform. An in-depth article about ebooks and their myriad forms.

Hot books to watch out for from the UK for the christmas market

From around the internet
Fleur Beale’s coming-of-age novel End of the Alphabet is being read on Radio NZ. Listen to the 6-part series

Which 100 Books List?, asks vicbooks

Rainy day readin, from Page & Blackmore Books

This, library endeavours people have undertaken, is worth a read. Camels, donkeys etc

What makes a good short story?

This is cool – the art of ‘Read every Day’ – Scholastic