Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh review

I had no idea I had picked up Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh until I got home. My local bookshop has recently set up a ‘Blind Date with a Book’ – six books have been wrapped in newspaper and only a two-sentence summary was provided for readers to choose. And I picked the short story collection. I have never read Moshfegh before, though I had heard of both Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation and was eager to try her writing.

Moshfegh knows how to construct an opening line. She instantly draws her reader in and introduces her characters in a really engaging, absorbing manner. Sometimes the opening lines far exceeded the rest of the story, but I will mention my issues a little later. Another positive for me was the characters. They weren’t necessarily likable, but they were a joy to read about. Moshfegh gives them enough development that you root for them, even if their actions are questionable at best, yet they are ambiguous enough that they linger in the mind long after the story has finished.

Or, some of them do. I thought the narrators in ‘Bettering Myself’ and ‘Nothing Ever Happens Here’ were brilliant and those stories were my favourites in the whole collection. There was a sense of humour and pathos running throughout those two, and Moshfegh handled that balance beautifully. Yet, for a handful of others I couldn’t even determine who the narrator was, because they blended in with the previous narrator. Moshfegh uses the same narrative tone, and the majority of the stories follow a similar structure. They are told in first person narrative and they revolve on our main character reflecting back on a failed relationship. 9 times out of 10 both people are seen as eccentric or social outcasts. Some are told from third person narrative, but most I would say were in first. It made it harder to decipher who was who. At one point, I wondered if Moshfegh had returned to a previous narrator, and these stories were snapshots of their lives. Yet this seemed unlikely, given what the reader is told.

I do Moshfegh is a clever writer, and when her stories land, they were incredible. Yet at times I was a bit bored, mainly due to most of the stories following a similar pattern. It is obvious why they were all selected together for a short story collection, but more variety might have kept it more exciting and engaging. If you haven’t read Moshfegh before, then I reckon this collection is a good way to experience her writing style and see if it is something you enjoy, before committing to a novel. Certainly I am tempted to try out one of them now, as I can see her writing working well in a longer form.

Homesick for Another World is published by Vintage and you can find more information here.

The Family of Blackbirds and Other Stories by Chika Echebiri review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing The Family of Blackbirds and Other Stories by Chika Echebiri, which has kindly been sent to me by the author and Booktasters. This is a short story collection (surprise, surprise) for children. As there are 5 stories in the book, I might talk generally at the beginning of this post, and then mention specific stories later.

Echebiri’s a really great children’s writer, managing to entertain and educate kids yet not condescend to them. The plots deal with issues that children can relate to, such as the first day of school or relationships with friends and family. The language is easy for the most part, but there are some challenging words that children can learn. However, I wasn’t 100% sure on the images that accompany each story. They are a mixture of illustrations and photographs, and I’m not sure what the purpose of that is. It was almost jarring. It perhaps would have worked better if Echebiri had picked one medium to help tell the stories, or even having a different visual style for each story.

Out of all them, ‘Emeka’s Bravery’ is probably my favourite from the collection. It combines a lot of things would appeal to younger readers – there’s a sense of magic and drama. It also looks at another culture that maybe some people are unfamiliar with, and gives children a chance to see how other people live. I think in Echebiri’s best stories (I read another collection of hers last year) she creates an interesting adventure whilst also broadening children’s mind. I also found both the titular ‘The Family of Blackbirds’ and ‘Susan’s First Day at School’ to be very charming.

Not all stories worked as well as these. ‘Gerda and the missing ring’ which has a Cinderella-esque plot, feels like it could have been fleshed out more. Also, an image doesn’t really match up with the text, which threw me a bit (the photo shows a young woman smiling yet the text is referencing the death of her parents). Also some commas are used unnecessarily throughout. There are quite small, nit-picking details; overall I think The Family of Blackbirds and Other Stories is a very sweet collection for younger readers.

The Family of Blackbirds and other stories is published by Xlibris and you can find more information here.

 

Listening In and Other Stories by Shauna Kelley review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing Shauna Kelley’s short story collection Listening In which I kindly received from the author and Booktasters. It is a slim volume but the stories did leave quite a big impression on me.

Kelley’s writing style is very lyrical and evocative, making these narratives easy to visualise. I read another review saying that the stories are quite literary; which I agree with but I found them really accessible and would imagine those who aren’t into literary fiction will do so too.

Her characterisation is also impressive. In many of the stories – the most obvious being the eponymous ‘Listening In’ – have quite unusual narrators, which could lead to a reader feeling alienated from the story. However, Kelley does a great job of humanising them and making you care about these characters despite their odd quirks. Even if you disagree with their actions you understand their motives.

I also liked how Kelley weaves senses into the stories. As you can tell from the name of the collection there are plenty of references to them; sound, sight and smell all seem to feature in one or more of the stories. This helps to make the narratives more visceral and also helps to create really powerful imagery.

If I had to criticise, I did notice a few spelling mistakes. They didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book but they definitely did pull me out of the narrative for a few seconds. But apart from that there isn’t much to dislike here. If you’re a fan of literary short stories with some great characters and imagery then you might want to check out Listening In.

Listening In and Other Stories is published independently and you can find more information here.

Two Girls in a Cafe by Lawrence G Taylor review

 

Hi everyone! Today I thought I would review the short story Two Girls in a Cafe, which I kindly received from the author and Booktasters. Ruth and Felicity are chatting in a cafe when the conversation turns to a man they both know. Both have very different opinions about him, and throughout the story you wonder who is telling the truth.

Taylor successfully crams a lot of ideas into very few pages. Do you truly know a person? Do our opinions of others reveal more about us than them? The story gives you a lot to think about whilst also being incredibly readable. The prose is simplistic but that isn’t a bad thing; rather it allows the themes and ideas of the story to shine through.

The characters of Ruth and Felicity were also well done. Both have very distinct personalities and their different voices were clear, making it hard for the reader to get them mixed up. However, the waiter seemed a little unnecessary. He didn’t add anything to the story, and when we followed his perspective I wished we were back at the ladies’ table.

Overall, Two Girls in a Cafe is a solid short story. Taylor writes his characters remarkably well, and successfully weaves big themes and ideas into the narrative without becoming pretentious. My quibble about the waiter is a very minor one and I did enjoy the story.

Two Girls in a Cafe is published independently and you can find more information here.