Saturday, July 16, 2011

The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam

The People on Privilege Hill, a collection of short stories by Jane Gardam, is my first completion on the challenge. At the risk of sounding like a commercial for "Cats," I want to read them again and again.

My usual strategy with a book of stories is to turn to the table of contents and choose the shortest one to read first. Why invest a lot of time in a long one if the authorial voice doesn't appeal? Because I was reading for this challenge, however, I decided to read the stories in order. In retrospect, I wish I had let my inner immaturity take the shortcut, since I would have read "Pangbourne" first, the story of a woman in love with a gorilla. In its eight brief pages, there is whimsy, passion, and the disappointing realization of the true nature of love. Here's a passage: "My e-mail address is pangbourne. This melancholy word has nothing to do with a place, or surname. It is the name of the great gorilla at our local zoo: the ape that has been the love of my life."

As it was, I began with the collection's titular story, in which Edward Feathers of Old Filth appears. That story is, like "Pangbourne," both funny and touching. Other stories are supernatural and eerie; historically informative; politically charged; and sweetly melancholy. Gardam's range is vast.

Upon finishing "Babette," a small story with delightful characters and surprising turns, I looked about the house for someone to share it with. When I do begin re-reading these tales, I suspect it will be aloud.

Next on tap is either Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson or Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo. Both are in stock on my bookshelves. One's dark and the other light; I haven't decided which way the wind blows me this week.