Ox-Tales: Fire by Oxfam

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Ox-Tales: Fire by Oxfam

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: All in a good cause, but worth reading and not just buying, this collection showcases some of the best contemporary British authors and it's well worth reading for sheer variety of styles, approaches and subjects.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Green Profile
ISBN: 978-1846682599

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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 in each book are not about Oxfam's work or the specific area of concern, as I half-expected them to be. They use the particular element, either literally or metaphorically, as a starting point, a subject, a prop in the plot and sometimes just briefly allude to it.

I enjoyed working out the 'fire connection' in all of the stories. It figured in most of them, either literally or metaphorically, although there was a couple of pieces in which I failed to detect even a hint of allusion, but it didn't really matter.

It is a slim volume, barely 200 small-format pages, ideal for carrying in your bag and dipping in: ten pieces of writing in total, with several stories and some excerpts from novels.

Fire is framed by two highlights of the collection. It opens with the longest and the best of the fire-tales, The Island by Mark Haddon in which the anthology's title element is acutely present in its absence. A modern retelling of the story of Ariadne of the Minotaur myth, it is painful, visceral, delirious and multi-layered; told in a confident and convincing voice; a true gem.

Jeanette Winterson's short Dog Days closes the book with a stylistically faultless, passionately poetic, poignant but ultimately full of hope celebration of the fiery gloriousness of life itself (as embodied in a young spaniel).

In between those two lies a varied and occasionally uneven assortment of tales of which the most disappointing was a piece by Geoff Dyer, which seemed like rather utterly inconsequential and forgettable musings suitable for a magazine column, and Victoria Hislop's Aflame in Athens which tried hard but (mostly due to clunky language and stereotypical characterisation) didn't really succeed in producing a classic short story with a twist.

Sebastian Faulk's Family Evening and William Sutcliffe's Sandcastles: A Negotiation, both fragments of a larger work, made me want to read the finished novels. The latter presented one of the most incisive and bitingly hilarious analyses of the predicament (and a mindset) of a parent lumbered with two under-fives I have seen for quite a while.

From John Le Carre's little fable of The King Who Never Spoke to Ali Smith's linguistic and slightly absurd Last, Fire showcases some of the best contemporary British authors and it's well worth reading for the sheer variety of styles, approaches and subjects. Each writer brings something different to the anthology, and although not many readers will like all the tales, most should enjoy a fair proportion of them.

Thanks to the publishers for sending this book to the BookBag. If you'd like more from Jeff Dyer we can recommend Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.

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Buy Ox-Tales: Fire by Oxfam at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ox-Tales: Fire 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: Fire by Oxfam at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ox-Tales: Fire by Oxfam at Amazon.com.


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