Fly Away Home by Marina Warner
|Fly Away Home by Marina Warner|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A perfectly varied selection of narratives from an estimable author, but for me there were too many misses in which the definite hits were able to hide.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 240||Date: September 2015|
|Publisher: Salt Publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
How would you subvert a fairy tale? You know enough of them and enough about them to do it, so think on it. Would you give a mermaid a smartphone? Would you pepper them with pop stars, and perhaps let them be witness to the Schadenfreude caused by a cave that's sacred to native Canadians? Would you, in the light of their characters usually being routine, interchangeable tropes, give them a closely-observed personality – as seen here in a teacher's interior thoughts when faced with a piece of East Anglian lore? Would you take the exoticism of the east, and Egypt in particular, and see it in the light of a musical teacher on a zero-hours contract who ends up muttering to himself, directing traffic in the middle of the road, or from the remove of an elderly man with swollen feet in orthopaedic sandals with a message from the past? Certainly these two are not the standard Arabian Nights-styled pieces…
Nor, to my taste, are nearly enough of the contents the subverted, revised, corrected-courtesy-real-life fairy tales I sought. I'm not alone – the blurb says the pieces here are based on myth, fairy tale and nursery rhyme, and I for one know the author is more than smart enough to do such; I read her latest non-fiction book on the subject in 2014 and it was so good the electronic proof I read presented the whole book twice over in the one file. I have read enough of Ms Warner to know she is not Angela Carter, nor Jeanette Winterson, even if both are probably the closest in mood, spirit and ethos. But too much of this writing was definitely non-genre. Some had none of the fantasy, or spirit, or whatever you would put in your definition of the modern fairy story – some had a paucity of what actually makes for a satisfying short story, unfortunately.
I'm not saying that all the book had to riff on familiar tropes, but it was evident that the better pieces here had a style and origin that was definitely in the fairy world. A young girl becomes bride to a friend of her mother's, but gets unlikely help early on after the wedding. A gardener finds romance – and several ghosts – in the house of the older man whose landscape she repairs. A woman desperate for a child finds extraordinary contact with something when buying a charity shop dress. War zones are sites for maternal succour. That selection, and the maternity in that last example, show this deserves the 'women's writing tag', just as the entire book deserves the 'literary fiction' nomenclature – smartphone-wielding mermaids regardless.
Elsewhere an AIDS researcher is trying to buy coconuts off two enterprising youths, a chap is deemed to go native in colonial Egypt, and an adopted mother finds herself torn when her child seeks a grandmother, and you search for something from a fairy tale, or any connection with anything other than Ms Warner's imagination, in vain. That imagination is definitely strong – just witness the brevity of the pieces here, and how nothing is wasted, even when other writers would struggle to make their pieces as differentiated as these here. I just found the disjuncture too great – the pieces were differentiated too far from what I sought of this fantasia specialist to make me fully appreciate them.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The Rental Heart and other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan does pretty much the same thing – with some of the same problems as the volume at hand.
You can read more book reviews or buy Fly Away Home by Marina Warner at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Fly Away Home by Marina Warner at Amazon.com.
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