Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Few Days in the Country by Elizabeth Harrower

A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories has been shortlisted for this year's Stella Prize.

I find short story collections a curious choice for a major award (and this year, the Stella has two short story collections) and I'm trying to work out why.

I really enjoy a good short story - over the years I've loved the short stories of Alice Munro, William Trevor and Katherine Mansfield in particular. I'm fascinated by their ability to capture the everyday details of life and give them meaning. I like their snappy emotional energy. And I adore how they can embrace the unexpected.

I had very high hopes for this collection of short stories after reading The Watch Tower a while back, especially in the emotional energy area. I was also a little in love with the fabulous cover portrait of Harrower on the new paperback edition painted by W.H. Chong. Her piercing blue eyes followed me around the house the whole week I was reading this!

Some of the stories contained the emotional punch I was expecting and hoping for - especially the stories that examined the mother/daughter or older/younger woman dynamic (Alice, Summertime and The Cornucopia).
Most of us have experienced or witnessed toxic female friendships and we have learnt to keep those people at a distance. The hard part, of course, is when that toxic female is your mother or your boss and escape becomes very difficult. That's what makes Harrower's stories so disturbing. That sense of entrapment and 'stuckness' can make the reader feel suffocated and frustrated.

However, there weren't enough of these emotional moments to keep me fully engaged. I was able to admire the writing, but failed to connect at a deeper level to many of the stories.

What's your relationship with short stories? And Elizabeth Harrower?

1 comment:

  1. I've just commented on booksaremyfavouriteandbestblog saying that I'm clearly in the minority with you and her. I just adored this collection. I did like Alice and The cornucopia for their really unusual voice, but I wouldn't have picked toxic female friendships as the main overall theme. For me it's more widely about how people should treat each other. There are several stories about the power wielded by men over women. Her writing takes my breath away. I found this as powerful, in a different way, as The watch tower, which I agree is a great novel.

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