Diving Belles

I am not usually one for short stories but when I read a review of Lucy Wood’s collection on Savidge Reads, I decided to give it a go.  On the whole, I enjoyed the book but didn’t like all the stories within it.  The first story in the book is the one that gave the collection it’s name and is about mermaids.  Now, I like mermaids and all sorts of mythical creatures so my initial reaction was, “Great, I’m going to love this” but unfortunately, my only reaction when I go to the end of the first story was,”Oh, now I remember why I don’t like short stories.”  I hate how they just ‘end’ and I’m sorry but I just don’t ‘get’ them.

However, I did like Lucy Wood’s style of writing in that first story and I knew the other stories were also about magic and other realms so I had to persevere.  The second  story is called ‘Countless Stones’ and is set in a small coastal town where some of the inhabitants – and it’s not clear why – turn to stone at certain times in their lives.  I loved this story and found the writing atmospheric and beautiful.

“It was a struggle to walk now.  It was a struggle to breath.  Her legs grated together and her hips didn’t rotate… She felt exhausted.  She could feel the clicks of stone against stone as her shoulders seized up and turned rigid.  She made sure she was facing out to sea.  Breathing stopped, but there was a different type of breathing. She let her thoughts wander…”

I didn’t enjoy all the stories as much as I did the second one but there were some gems in this book. One of my two personal favourites tells of the daughter who goes to visit her mother after realising that she has been neglecting her – “The late birthday card you sent is behind a banana magnet on the fridge… Your handwriting is terrible – rushed and sprawling like dropped stitches. Sorry I couldn’t make it in the end, you know what it’s like, work, work, work, meeting…” – but walks in to find her mother  talking to herself and stroking her shoulders.   The daughter finds some eye cream in the bathroom which she puts on her own eyes before bedtime, only to realise that she can now see all the things that she always thought were just her Mum’s ‘quirky, odd ways’, like keeping vases filled with water but no flowers (now she can see flowers in those vases, and

“There is a hand on her shoulder and it isn’t your hand.  There is a man with his hand on your mother’s shoulder.  He is shorter than her and has dark, curly hair.  He is wearing a waistcoat… made from a strange material that sometimes looks green and sometimes looks silver.  The man stays close to your mother as she tells you about the lunch she is going to cook.  Without pausing, she puts her arm behind her back and the man in the green waistcoat holds it.  She does this so smoothly, so naturally, that you realise it is something she has been doing for a long time.”

My other favourite is one about House Elves (very Harry Potter, so a guaranteed cert with me!)  The story, or ‘notes’ are told through their eyes and span decades and generations of a house’s inhabitants.  We learn that they don’t like children who break the house but miss their noises; they don’t like musical instruments but loved the sound made by the piano; they are fickle, opinionated, grumpy but also caring, lonely and funny.  Oh, and they don’t like cats – they wouldn’t like my house then!

“They have put up a shelf and they have done it badly.  It is going to fall off.  We know it is going to fall off.  We can feel the screws loosening millimetre by millimetre.  We knock off a book, then another book, to try to make them notice.  They don’t notice.  The man picks up one of the books and reads loud from it. ‘Listen to this,’ he says. We listen.”

“We have seen cats before. They stare at us and bristle.  We don’t like them.  We have seen children before.  They move around so quickly that we can’t keep track of which room they are in.”

“The boy makes louder noises and puts more weight on the floorboards and stairs: bang bang bang.  One day he disappears… We can’t find him anywhere in the house.  No one is looking… We miss the boy who left… the smell of the stuff he put on his hair – sometimes we would take off the lid and scoop out tiny little bits.”

These quirky stories that had a definitive ending worked really well for me.  In the past, the short stories I’ve read have sometimes left me feeling short-changed and unsatisfied with their endings.  I think this is why I am wary of reading short stories but I am glad that I picked up Lucy Wood’s début collection as there were more stories in it that I enjoyed than ones I didn’t.  I’ll always be wary of reading short stories but can certainly vouch for ‘Diving Belles’ being a collection worthy of anyone’s reading time.

Which cover do you like best?

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