Sunday, May 15, 2011

Little Black Book of Stories

I loved it, y'all! My first book by A.S. Byatt was a smashing success. And to think I was afraid she'd be all...stuffy. NOT SO! Going into this book, I was tantalized by the title, not to mention the darkly-awesome cover. It's a slim volume weighing in at only 250 pages, and it's split into five menacing tales.

Keep in mind, before we really get into this review, that the tales aren't really overtly scary so much as twisty, and some of them are delightful, and one or two are a gruesome in parts. It's a mixed bag, and every story truly kept me guessing. Byatt has some wily tricks up her sleeve, and I was never, ever bored. I was never unfulfilled. Each one of these short story gems was perfectly formed on its own -- none of this wishing for a novel business!

The first in the collection, titled "The Thing in the Wood" is about two little girls sent to the countryside during WWII's London blitz. They encounter a monster of epic proportions in the woods -- all decaying nastiness, oddity, and sorrow come to life. They return later, as mature adults quite by accident, and face it again, though one fares far better than the other.

Another story that stands out is "A Stone Woman." A perfectly normal woman begins to turn to stone and crystal after her mother's death and an emergency abdominal surgery. Stone begins to sprout from her middle until she's totally enclosed in it -- stony throat, molten lava blood, crystallized tongue. Amidst her change, before it takes over completely, she decides to visit a cemetery. She doesn't know if she'll die once she's completely turned to stone, but she wants a nice place to harden, if that's her fate. She doesn't find a suitable spot, but she does meet Thorsteinn, an Icelandic stone cutter, and they become fast friends. They visit Iceland during the summer months, and there the woman is able to find redemption and peace. It was really a beautiful story reminiscent of fairy tale and dripping in the mythological. Magical and beautiful. One of my favorites.

Finally, one of the most ironic stories is "Raw Material." A creative writing teacher laments his class's tendency toward the sensational. Meanwhile, he really becomes drawn into one elderly student's work. She writes finely crafted nostalgia pieces about her life growing up, and to say that the class doesn't appreciate them is an understatement! The ironic twist comes at the end when the teacher discovers that his star pupil was living a gruesome and sensational life the whole time she was writing about the niceties of her early years. Surprise! I won't even tell y'all what the gruesome is, but UGG!

To say that I'm impressed with Byatt's work is just not enthusiastic enough. It's rare that every story is a 10, but it happened here. Given, with only five stories in the collection, they trend toward the longer side of short fiction, and it's a great opportunity for fulfilling character development and the premises are just outstanding.

Little Black Book of Stories is a winner for the short story lover and the hesitant short story reader alike.

Note: This post was RE-POSTED after the great Blogger outage earlier this week. It wasn't until today that I realized it was missing -- along with all the comments. Arrrrg!!! *shakes fist at the sky*


  1. Ooh, I like twisted! This sounds good to me.

  2. Maybe I should just forget about ever managing to read Possession and focus on this one instead. It sounds wonderful, especially The Stone Woman.

  3. Wow! This book sounds amazing! Now I really want to read it. Great review.

  4. I haven't read any other books by Byatt, but this one sounds like a good one to start with. I like that the stories are more time for character development, which I think is imperative to a successful short story.

  5. And I've just bought her sister's short stories - A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman by Margaret Drabble!

  6. Kathy, I'm a big fan of twisted, too. This was the best kind of twisted since it wasn't just twisted for twisted's sake -- they are legitimately enhanced by the twistedness!

    Jill, forget it! Start with this one and go from there. "The Stone Woman" was frackin' amazing.

    Get it, Natasha! I want to know what you have to say about it.

    Jenna, thanks for stopping by! This is my first Byatt, so I'm obviously biased, but I think it's a GREAT place to start. And, yes, the character development is superb for short stories.

    Nan, I ALWAYS forget that Drabble is her sister! I have one of her books, The Red Queen, on my shelves, and I can't wait to read it.

  7. Ummm...I really, really want to read this one now. The stories that you shared about sound so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  8. This sounds wonderful. I haven't read anything by Byatt yet even though her work is all over the blogosphere. Maybe I should start with this one.


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