This series of stories is an impressive achievement.
The writing is sensitive, sometimes humorous, lively and peopled with vivid characters.
The title story, ‘Loving Imogen’ deals tastefully, but realistically, with a relationship of a contentious sort – a love affair between a young girl and an older man. Daniel, the melancholy protagonist of this story, is anything but the lecherous stereotype of the middle aged man who becomes involved with a young girl.
There seems to be an echo of ‘Cymbeline’ here – and I’ve only just picked that up! When I was reading it I thought, stupidly, ‘A main female character called ‘Imogen’ and a man who bases all his faith in human nature on her physical fidelity – what does that remind me of? And it took me this long to work it out…Quick on the uptake as ever!
This story depicts a true love relationship, which both the girl and the man know must end unhappily, but find impossible to resist. Daniel, when we first see him in the beginning of the story, is a bitter, lonely man who has been unable to surmount the devastation of his life by this all absorbing passion for the lovable and intelligent, but flawed Imogen.
When Imogen turned unexpectedly up in Daniels’ life twenty years back, along with her taciturn soul mate, her twin brother, who, isolated by his speech defect was soundlessly devoted to his sister, and the twins recounted to Daniel their story of their abuse at the hands of their previous guardians, he was outraged knowing he could never aim such hatred and bitterness at such innocents himself.
Or could he?
‘Most people, Daniel thought: the innumerable hordes who managed expectations, shaped standards, and killed dreams. They seemed to embody everything that he had both yearned for and tried to escape from for his entire life. Had he ever been one of their number, really?’
‘The Song of the Sea’ is a short but fascinating exploration of an age old enemy of mankind, and its effect on the unlucky Jacob: –
‘Twenty years ago, as a young man sound of mind and strong of body, he went out to sea with his brother Isaac, and when he came back again, he was broken up, wild eyed, and deaf and dumb.’
This story touches obliquely on marine conservation issues, and I found myself asking all sorts of questions about it long after I had finished reading.
The third story had me mulling over questions long after I had finished reading it, as well. ‘Summer’ is a humorous study of repressed energy, of social and sexual frustration in the form of the Rectory ghost, who smashes things, plays malicious tricks and writes obscene abuse on walls.
Such goings on don’t fit in with a banker’s notion of reality at all: –
“‘Filthy, cowardly behaviour,” he (Peter) fumed, strutting up and down in front of the cold fireplace with a glass of scotch in his hand…’
But his overbearing ways won’t still the Rectory ghost…
‘Fragile Things’ is another short, but compelling story of another doomed love affair. It also depicts, as does ‘The Song of the Sea’ how a lurid episode lasting no more than minutes can completely change a life – or three…Here, the nature of the horror is prosaic and everyday, but the author’s delicate treatment of this triangle of characters is not: –
‘”People are fragile things’ ‘He (Shankley) once said, sucking on a cigarette. “Even the ones who don’t believe it, and act like they’re made of stone, like they don’t feel a thing. They’re fragile; they don’t last long, and they’re sad.”’
Full of the vivid word pictures that was one of the features that made her previous novel ‘The Quickening’ such a compelling read, Mari Biella has created a selection of fascinating and compelling stories in this selection.
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