Monday, March 15, 2010

British Short Stories

Jane Gardam, now in her 80's, is a British writer, winner of many literary awards in Great Britain. However, until recently her work has not quite translated to the U.S. so we are only recently discovering her gifts. Her newest book Old Filth received a very positive review on NPR and I elected to start with an earlier collection of her short stories. The People on Privilege Hill is a quirky, sometimes hilarious and often moving collection of tales about individuals living in London during and after World War II. They range from 3 retired and lonely judges, to a woman who formerly drove young women in a home for unwed mothers to court where they gave up their babies for adoption during the war. One titled Babette, of course caught my eye! It's a clever and very funny tale of a woman who thinks Babette (author of one hit novel followed by years of obscurity) is dead, but our writer is contacted by the author Babette after reviewing her work for a publication. Babette bequeaths several unusual and very heavy antiques to our writer, which are hidden away and sealed in an old attic. The tale of what then occurs provides the delightful surprising almost slapstick humor in the story. Gardam intimately understands the small, daily lives, routines, heartaches and delights of her characters and is clearly skilled at making them real. The added bonus (perhaps) is that I did look up three words in her story that were not entirely familiar to me (stave, balaclava, rime) and thus expanded my vocabulary as well. It's well past the time when this talented writer should finally be discovered by Americans.

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