|Blind Water Pass and other stories by Anna Metcalfe|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Kate Jones|
|Summary: A thought provoking debut collection of short stories, from voices not usually heard in fiction.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: May 2016|
|Publisher: JM Originals|
Anna Metcalfe's debut collection of short stories is a treasure trove of language, cultures, and beautifully written prose. The stories are bound together with a loose theme of communication, or miscommunication, across characters and cultures, and the narrators of these stories are as different as human beings themselves.
In 'Number Three', Metcalfe's shortlisted story for the prestigious Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2014, a poor female schoolteacher in a Beijing school faces challenges keeping the Director of the school satisfied whilst balancing the demands of a newly arrived, arrogant English teacher. This was one of the stand-out stories in the collection for me, and the simple prose Metcalfe uses to project us to the life of Miss Coral is captivating. She conjures up the life of a poor schoolteacher in a Beijing school so well that it is hard to imagine we are not in that world.
The stories are all very different, and the viewpoints and characters differ vastly also. There is definitely a theme of dislocation and cultural upheaval though. We have several stories, such as 'Sand' and 'Ghost', which deal with migration of people with little choices over their lives.
A story titled 'Still' seemed, on first reading, to be simply about a widowed father taking photographs of a plum tree in his garden every year, his young son by his side. By the time I got to the end of the story, however, the gravity of the tale hit me and I immediately needed to re-read it, to appreciate the beauty of it fully. But that's the thing with this collection of stories; they seem simple, but they have a great impact behind the simple prose.
In the title story, 'Blind Water Pass', we see a young Chinese girl, Lily, spending the summer with her Grandmother recycling discarded bottles from tourists trekking the mountain. In a humorous twist, she spouts meaningless Confucian phrases to the amusement and payment of the foreign tourists. Despite the humour of the story, the deep relationship between Lily and her Grandmother Bud is deeply felt.
The final story, 'Everything is Aftermath', is a touching story of another Chinese girl, Wen, visiting her Aunt Lin during the Dragon Boat Festival. We learn through Wen that Aunt Lin's own daughter, and cousin to Wen, was recently killed in an earthquake in the city, and Wen is spending time with her Aunt in an effort to comfort and feel close to her lost cousin and friend. Her Aunt is desperate to become pregnant, and turns to a fertility clinic for help, leaving a concerned Wen to question whether she will be happy only if this child is another girl, to replace her lost daughter. I think Metcalfe must have spent time in China, or travelling generally, as she brings the customs and locations to life so vividly in several of these stories.
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories, and would recommend it. It is difficult to believe it is Metcalfe's first collection, as it is such accomplished writing, and I can't wait to see what she does next.
If you liked this, you might like: The American Lover by Rose Tremain.
You can read more book reviews or buy Blind Water Pass and other stories by Anna Metcalfe at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Blind Water Pass and other stories by Anna Metcalfe at Amazon.com.
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