Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

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Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Ten unsettling stories, often on a twisted fairy tale theme reminiscent of Angela Carter. Perfect for those who like the unsettling and unanswered questions, or those who are interested in the flexibility of word and story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 2008
Publisher: David Fickling Books
ISBN: 0385613229

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I knew I'd enjoy this book as soon as I saw Margo Lanagan mentioning Marina Warner's fantastic deconstruction of fairy tales No Go the Bogeyman in the acknowledgements. Indeed, all ten short stories in Red Spikes are reminiscent of Angela Carter's dark fairy tale retellings, although not all are actually based on fairy tales. Lanagan's inspirations are eclectic, ranging from her Catholic education, through other famous writers of fantasy for children, to wildlife documentaries. I'm also put in mind of Dahlesque tales of the unexpected - you never know quite what you're going to get.

My favourite story was Monkey's Paternoster, which is all about the alpha male struggle for dominance in a troop of monkeys - told from the point of view of the females. There's some rough monkey sex in this story, and you're led into an anthropomorphic sympathy for the protagonist, only to be dropped rudely and amusingly at dinner time. Winkie, an exceedingly chilling reworking of the Wee Willie Winky nursery rhyme, was another blinder. Lanagan's Willie wears a patchwork nightgown made from the skin of the children he has abducted. And then there's love-lorn Arlen in A Good Heart, whose heart is split tube-to-chamber, and whose passion proves him a fine man. There wasn't one in the ten that I didn't like.

There is an unsettling and otherworldly element to all the stories, but the emotional landscape is a familiar one. Passion, grief, anticipation and terror are immediately recognisable to us all. The writing is direct, but multi-layered and the narrative ground shifts from page to page.

None of the stories tie up their loose ends. Loose ends, it seems, for Lanagan, are what life is all about. Living, loving, and loose ends. I don't think she's far off the truth. Because of this, though, Red Spikes falls firmly into teenage territory. Even the brightest, most sophisticated of primary school readers will find it a struggle; they still need answers and in this book, none are forthcoming. But for older children who like unanswered questions, and enjoy being unsettled or the creative types who are interested in the flexibility of word and story, the stories in this book will be read over and over again. It's unusual, fascinating and utterly inspirational.

My thanks to the nice people at David Fickling for sending the book.

Teenagers who like short stories might also like the magic realism and semi-autobiographical collection in Counting Stars by David Almond. You might also enjoy Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwirght.

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Buy Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan at


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