Ali Bacon reviews a new short story collection
I sometimes think short story collections are like boxes of chocolates. I always enjoy the first couple but I’m quickly sated and often end up by not getting to the end (well okay that rarely happens with chocolates, but you get the picture!) I think it’s particularly true of collections by one author because however much I like the style, it always palls after a while in a way that doesn’t happen for me with a novel.
Anyway, I’m happy to say that Remember me to the Bees by Bristol writer Judy Darley has broken the chocolate-box rule. Finding myself between novels I’ve been dipping in and out over a number of evenings (and in waiting rooms and on buses) and have been happy every time to go back for extra helpings. Although there is a broad similarity in the themes (broken marriages, missing parents, generally things lost and broken) the stories are remarkably varied in tone and subject matter. Those that involve children and young people (The Big Clean, The Beast, Chrysalis, Rabbit Hunt – come to think of it, the majority!) are particularly engaging without showing too much sentimentality. There is usually a strong narrative element (plots and subplots!) so it comes as no surprise that the author is now writing a novel. But the most striking thing about the writing is the fabulous use of language. Bees fuss, peaches have furry scalps (brilliant!) and a bonfire makes a ginger stain. This is what makes these stories immediate, distinctive and memorable.
Just one quibble. This book is very pretty to look at with lovely illustrations by Louise Boulter BUT for me the typeface was too spidery and I couldn’t see the point of centred paragraphs throughout. When it comes to typography and layout, readability is all. Having said that, I was not dissuaded from reading on, which just goes to show how good these stories are.
Judy is having a launch party next Monday (March 31st) in Bristol and I’ll be there to wish her all the very best with this great collection. Judy has been posting extracts from the book on her website http://www.skylightrain.com/ or you can contact her on Twitter @EssentialWriter
Remember me to the Bees can be ordered here