I went into Waterstones the other day, specifically looking for short story collections. I asked to be pointed to the short story section – there were four books on the shelf, the rest were lumped in with general fiction. I suppose there is an argument to both having a dedicated section (easy access if you are looking for short stories) and for including short stories in general fiction (you might pick up a short story collection by a favourite author), but it did set me pondering and I’d be interested to know what you think about that.
This brings me neatly on to today’s review – a short story collection by Fiona McFarlane, The High Places. Before even opening the book, it’s a thing of beauty. I’m really encouraged by the amount of effort going into making books desirable pieces of art these days (Penguin Clothbound, anyone?) and although the cover designer isn’t credited in the book, it’s a really lovely thing to look at and touch.
Once you get past the look, the stories themselves are unique, not conforming to a certain length, format or setting. The collection moves from the UK, to Australia, to Greece, to a Pacific Island, and each serves to show circumstances from a different angle. In my favourite story ‘Unnecessary Gifts’, for example, the build up – narrated by Philip, the father of two boys – leads you to believe that something terrible and irreversible is going to happen to James, his youngest child. The tension is palpable in the story, but what you expect is not necessarily what happens. All of the stories have an element of this, but it is superbly done in this instance.
Full of atmosphere, in which the heat of the drought-ridden outback leaps off the page, The High Places is a memorable first collection which has definitely prompted me to read Fiona McFarlane’s debut novel, The Night Guest.
Since I have banged on about how lovely this book is, I’ve decided to treat you all by giving away a copy. Just retweet the pinned tweet on my Twitter feed to enter…
I received a copy of The High Places from Sceptre Books in return for an honest review.