Sunday, July 6, 2014

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood's distinctive short stories reveal "the miraculous in the everyday." That quote is from Karen Russell's blurb on the cover of Diving Belles. Russell also calls Wood "a sorceress." Ali Shaw writes: "It is as if the Cornish moors and coasts have whispered secrets into Lucy Wood's ears and, in response, she has fashioned exquisite tales of mystery and humanity." Yes! What they said.

Some of the tales incorporate Cornish folklore, such as leaving a fish offering to appease hobgoblins called buccas. The landscape is nearly a character in its own right, while thrift and other coastal plants are ever present.

"Nothing moved across the moor except the rain, which appeared as suddenly and soundlessly as a face pressed against a window."

I savoured these stories slowly, opening my heart to their charms. Things are often not as they appear. "What you mistook for sadness is love."

A woman is sometimes a hare, as in 'Blue Moon.' In this tale, a kindly receptionist narrates her experiences in a nursing home for elderly folk with witchy abilities. "We kept finding them down at the harbour trying to sell the wind to fishermen in lengths of knotted rope. [...] Most days the phone wouldn't ring at all so I was roped into doing extra cleaning. There had been a spate of pentagrams appearing on the common room carpet, marked out in salt, and I had to hoover them up. It's a real pain because the grains bind themselves to the carpet fibres and won't shift unless you keep a pinch of salt on your tongue. By the end of it you're parched."

Each story carries fresh astonishments, so I have readalike suggestions for seven out out of the twelve individually, as well as for the collection in general.

'Diving Belles' (title story) - The Brides of Rollrock Island (Margo Lanagan)
'Countless Stones' - The Girl with Glass Feet (Ali Shaw)
'Of Mothers and Little People' - Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Graham Joyce)
'Lights in Other People's Houses' - The Ghosts of Kerfol (Deborah Noyes)
'The Giant's Boneyard' - Yellowcake (Margo Lanagan)
'Notes from the House Spirits' - the chorus of maids in Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood); and the sentient house in End of the World Blues (Jon Courtenay Grimwood).
'Blue Moon' - Tenth of December (George Saunders)

Additional readalikes for the collection as a whole: Jagannath (Karin Tidbeck); Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell); and Pretty Monsters (Kelly Link).

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