You may remember a few days ago I was bleating on about the awesome book I’d received in the post, Sourdough & Other Stories. As you can see from the picture here, it truly is a work of art in and of itself. Well, now I’ve read it and Angela Slatter’s stories inside are works of art too.
I’m a sucker for a good fairy story. And I mean a proper fairy story, where nasty things happen, even to the good people. It makes my teeth flex to see these sanitised Disney fairy tales, where it’s all rainbows and unicorns and bollocks like that, with a final message that all you have to do is believe in yourself. Fuck off. That’s not a fairy tale. A real fairy story is where the witch does eat the children, not when the children outsmart the mean old witch with their goodness and wholesomeness.
So yeah, I like a proper fairy tale and I knew that Slatter’s book was a collection of such things. I also knew that it was a collection of interconnected stories, with the whole book becoming something of a novel-of-short-stories rather than a whole bunch of standalone yarns. And I knew that most of the stories were dealing primarily with women protagonists. I didn’t know anything more about it than that. I’ve read some of Slatter’s work before and knew what an awesome writer she was, so I had high hopes. I bought this book the moment it became available and it leapt straight to the top of my reading pile.
I consumed this thing whole and it consumed me. Slatter’s writing is exquisite, she really is a master storyteller. Her turns of phrase are often beautiful and haunting. It’s not that her prose is full of literary swirl or flowery excess. She just uses language like a virtuoso pianist uses a keyboard. She delights in the short form of the delivery and these tales are tight, incredibly crafted things. She builds a world and a set of characters and makes us care about both of them in the space of a few paragraphs. She creates a story that hooks us and takes along. And because I knew there was interconnectedness in this book, getting to the end of one story just made me desperate to read the next. I wanted to see whose baby would be the powerful witch later on, or whose actions would cause ripples in future generations. And I was distraught when the book ended and there were no more stories to read.
Terrible things happen in Slatter’s stories, to good guys and bad guys. Good guys do horrible things to bad people and vice versa. Often it’s not entirely clear who the good and bad people are. There’s realism in the desperate struggles of the characters. Often the women around whom all these tales revolve are subjugated and oppressed, yet they shine in the end as the ones with real power, real lasting effect on their world. There are beautiful moments of redemption and bittersweet justice and occasional moments of genuine joy for the characters.
There is constant genuine joy for the reader. This book is a fantastic achievement on every level. Tartarus Press are to be congratulated for creating a beautiful object and Angela Slatter is to be congratulated for crafting a reading experience that is truly sublime. If this doesn’t get up for the Best Collected Work at the Aurealis Awards or something similar I’ll be sorely disappointed. Get it. Now.