Ox-Tales: Earth by Oxfam

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Ox-Tales: Earth by Oxfam

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: All in a good cause, and certainly worth a look and a read: a varied collection in which most readers should find a few stories they will like.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 208 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Green Profile
ISBN: 978-1846682582

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Published in aid of Oxfam work, Ox-Tales comprise of four books featuring original stories donated to the project by a variety of writers.

The framework for the books is provided by the four elements of the classical philosophy. Each collection starts with Vikram Seth's elemental poem and ends with a short article highlighting Oxfam's work in a key area (fire – conflict and war, water – sanitation and clean water, earth – agriculture and air – climate change).

The stories are not connected to Oxfam's work: they use the elements, either literally or metaphorically, as a starting point, a prop, an allusion (and sometimes they don't mention it at all).

My favourites in this collection were two stories in which the earth connection was noticeably strong. Rose Tremain contributes The Jester of Astapovo, a flawless pastiche of the classic Russian 19th century fiction, complete with mushroom picking, a dying Tolstoy and its own take on celebrity mania. Kate Atkinson's Lucky We Live Now starts as a dystopian sci-fi to swiftly morph into Atkinson's signature delirious, magical, mythical fantasy; a meditation on nature and civilisation, death and creation - and just a little tongue in cheek.

Nicholas Shakespeare's Death of Marat has so much story that many would stretch it to a novel's length; rich in meanings and connections, it is a successful exploration of the connections people make with land, in a striking if perhaps a bit too convoluted parallel between post-colonial Africa and revolutionary France.

Ian Rankin's 200 word Fieldwork is a short joke well in keeping with an earth theme while Jonathan Coe's The Nettle Pit offers a touching and insightful if a slightly self concious exploration of family dynamics (with "earth" as a prop).

Marti Leimach's Boys in Cars is too journalistic by far for my liking, but makes for a compelling read and will appeal to those fascinated by a recently fashionable medical take on psychological differences and abnormalities.

Other contributors were Marina Lewycka, Jonathan Buckley and Hanif Kureishi, all with rather elegiac if very different stories and while none of the three held me particularly spellbound, at least the latter two will undoubtedly appeal to many readers.

Making an anthology is a difficult job. Making one that contains short stories along with novel excerpts and writers as different as Kate Atkinson and Ian Rankin and only with the tenous elemental link of the title is even harder.

Ox-Tales do succeeded in this though, at least to a reasonable degree. Just like the other volumes.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to Bookbag. We also have a review of Ox-Tales: Air by Oxfam. For more from Hanif Kureishi, try Something to Tell You.

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Buy Ox-Tales: Earth by Oxfam at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ox-Tales: Earth by Oxfam at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Ox-Tales: Earth by Oxfam at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ox-Tales: Earth by Oxfam at Amazon.com.


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