Stories, short and quick and with adult emotions, is what we find in this marvelous collection published 2008 by Europa. Gardam has a laser-eye and can have a razor-tongue, but she knows what humans are and what makes a story. In “The Fledgling," we are introduced to that self-conscious teen ready to leave the nest, and the mixed emotions of parent and child are recognizable and painful and funny at the same time. In “Dangers” we encounter a story reminiscent of the UK’s BBC radio show My Word, where segments often feature a funny and circuitous word etomology. “Waiting for a Stranger” may be my favorite of all, as an uncertain hostess waits for an overseas guest to arrive at her remote farm cottage. There had been only a day to prepare--it was a sudden request from her minister and her guest is a black African bishop. She is a farm wife and mother, and she’d never seen a black man in the flesh before, just on the telly. There is something terribly poignant about the care for a stranger.
In ”The Virgin of Bruges,” Gardam displays her trademark dry wit:
But even if she had not wanted me I would have gone to her. Frédérique is unlike me. She is a mother, wife of a farmer, beautiful, resourceful, practical, intellectual. I am a small, short man."Pangbourne" is a story of cherishing another being, sharing their space, and their lives, with no expectation of any return. And Gardam breaks our hearts with “The Latter Days of Mr. Jones,” the story of an elderly man, alone and never married, accused of hateful crimes against children. Each story illuminates corners of the human psyche and doesn’t bore us with too much of anything—explanations or asides, regrets or remarks. Just short stories that remain long in one’s memory.
Paperback, 256 pages. Published July 29th 2008 by Europa Editions (first published 2007)
ISBN1933372567 (ISBN13: 9781933372563) The Bowed Bookshelf: The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
This book counts towards the 2011 Europa Challenge.