Witches Sail In Eggshells, by Chloe Turner, is a collection of seventeen short stories, several of which have won awards. This does not surprise me. The prose is taut and often exquisite. Each story carries unassuming weight and depth. I have been taking my time over each tale as I wished to savour the experience. Writing this consistently good is rare.
The topics explored are pleasingly varied. The protagonists vary in age, situation and orientation. Background to characters and their actions are offered in just a few carefully constructed phrases. Although many of the tales cover just a few pages their plot and development will linger.
The collection has a strong opener in Hagstone which explores what would happen if we got what we wished for. There is an understated dark magic at play. If this isn’t your sort of thing be assured that it does not detract from the ordinary lives depicted that most will recognise and empathise with.
Next up we have Piñata, set around a child’s eighth birthday party. She is an entitled little princess whose mother is struggling to keep up with the wealthier school gate mummies – knowing she is failing. The father cannot see beyond his own needs and insecurities as he faces tries to avoid impending approaching middle-age.
“A passing child hears the profanity, giggles. Lou winces as the two men congratulate each other with back slaps and a half hug. At least the three wise women won’t have heard; they’re too busy casing the room. Divided for better coverage, they’re poking manicured fingernails, taking in the Primark prints and Stu’s vast telly, and the six-inch plastic flamingo dancer he brought her back from Marbella that time, which Lou’s forgotten to hide.”
Inches Apart introduces a couple whose marriage is under strain. Set in a hotel during winter season the imagery is evocative and perfectly reflects the faltering relationship.
Labour of Love tells of the progression of a pregnancy alongside the care of a fruit and vegetable garden. The sadness and hope of the prospective mother is reflected in a crop that is struggling to thrive.
While the Mynah Bird Watched is set in a doctor’s surgery, in a country where resources are scarce. Decisions must be taken about who to help, made more difficult in a small community where histories are shared. There is potential for revenge.
Other tales explore: toxic relationships escalating into violence; the effect of marital breakdown on the women affected when their children become friends; a working mother who harbours a dislike for her children’s nanny told from the younger woman’s point of view; the balance between love, irritation and thwarted dreams in long married couples; the power wielded by an intoxicating partner and the limits of friendship when damage is wreaked.
The House With Three Stories That Might Be Five features a young woman on the run having escaped a cult. The loneliness and almost regret ramp up with the unexpected denouement.
A Raft of Silver Corpses is a devastating yet all too believable reaction to man’s deliberate blindness to the damage caused by his unthinking behaviour.
Lobster Scissors looks at the unspoken pact of family secrets over many years and how these can leak when dementia hits.
The Wetshod Child is written in vernacular, not a style I usually enjoy but in this case works well, the sadness palpable.
The economy of words and quiet power of each story are impressive. Each is also thoroughly enjoyable to read. This is storytelling at its best. Highly recommended.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Reflex Press.