Publisher: Reflex Press
Publication Date: 11th June 2019
I love me a short story collection. You are all no doubt very aware of this by now!
When I saw Witches Sail In Eggshells by Chloe Turner mentioned on Twitter by Chloe herself I was intrigued by the title and did a little bit of googling…..
Did you know that if you don’t smash up your empty eggshells after you have used the egg, witches will steal the shells, use them as boats to sail across the seas casting spells and causing untold damage?…..
The point is I LOVE superstition and folklore like this and I got a really good vibe about the collection just from this awesome title. This vibe cranked up a notch when I investigated further and found that there was a sample story from the collection on the Reflex Press website. A story called Hagstone which I urge you to read here.
This story had just the right amount of magical realism and folklore for me and I had the excited tingly feeling when you know a book is going to be right up your street!
The guys at Reflex very generously said I could have a gifted copy to review and the rest as they say, is history.
I feel I like I was constantly wanging on about this collection on Twitter and Instagram so most of you will already know my thoughts and feelings, but for the rest of you, strap in and brace yourselves whilst I try and assemble my thoughts.
I find reviewing short story collections somewhat of a challenge but I’ll try my utmost to convey my thoughts coherently and do this amazing book justice!
There are 17 stories in this collection each ranging from around 3 pages to around 10 pages. The overarching themes are of ‘love, loss, the little ways we let each other down, and how we can find each other again’.
I don’t like to talk about each individual story in a collection as I think it’s very important for a reader to discover for themselves. I do however like to pick out stories that particularly resonated with me and ones that have stuck in my mind. Although having said that, I flicked through the collection after reading it and knew immediately, just by the title alone, what each of the stories were about. This is not always the case after I finish a collection. I can sometimes forget what a particular story was all about and have to read bits to remind myself. I have also been known to confuse stories with other collections by different authors!
The stories which stand out in my mind (and still give me the tingles now!) are:
A Raft Of Silver Corpses, which tells the story of a coastal town where strange things are happening to the sea life. Starting with the octopuses being found inland, the star fish literally being thrown out of the sea, dead, making 5 pronged imprints in the concrete, the fish dying almost as a collective. We learn of the residents reaction to the sea giving up it’s dead, and the lengths they will go to to make sure the evidence remains hidden.
The stories swiftly turned sour when the octopuses began coming up the beach. Just at night, at first: evening dog-walkers talked of finding them mired in sand right up at the tideline, mantles expanding and contracting, blue blood leaking from their beaks. Then, two were found on the lifeboat slipway in broad daylight, heaving themselves towards the boat shack like old women walking into the wind. One lively specimen made it all the way to the Spar in the clutch of shops set back from the harbour wall. It had backed itself into a gap between the fridges, flashing through colour changes as if it were trying to pass on a message in code.
This story is a very brief 3 pages long and the shortest story in the collection I think, but for me it is the one that had the biggest impact on me. I love anything relating to the sea, be that myth or folklore or strange happenings and this story packs such a punch for such a short story. I have read it several times since.
This leads me neatly on to the next story which still haunts me:
The Wetshod Child, which tells the story of Lewis, a fisherman who stumbles upon a strange turn of events down at the shoreline one evening when going to moor up his boat during a storm. What he finds down there amongst the rocks, changes his and his wife Sal’s lives for all too brief a time, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion. Again this story is steeped in sea based myth and folklore and put me firmly in mind of the story The Pied Piper which appears in the short story collection Some New Ambush by Carys Davies which I recently read and loved.
Not all of the stories in the collection have a magical realism/folklore edge. Some are firmly based in reality, in the here and now of the real world, which lets face it can be more heartbreaking and horrifying and downright odd at times!
Collecting Her Thoughts On The Prison Steps tells of a woman who has a habit of collecting things, glass bottles, thimbles, men…..when one of the men makes her collect something she really doesn’t want, she finds herself having to accept the dire consequences. This story really tugged at my heartstrings and left me feeling a bit choked, told through the eyes and observations of her close friend, this story really got under my skin for some reason.
In Show Me What You’re Made Of Di’s partner Michael with his catchphrase of ‘show me what you’re made of’ becomes somewhat involved in getting to the heart of the matter. Destroying objects and insects just to ‘see what they are made of’. But what is he working on alone in his workshop, and does he want to see just what Di is made of?
As I’ve mentioned, I could sit and talk about each of these stories but I do believe it’s important just to get a flavour of a collection and go and discover it for yourself.
What I loved about it, aside from Chloe Turner’s captivating writing style is the fact that there is a mixture of stories with magical realism, folklore and fairytale in with contemporary stories rooted in reality. This meant that you never quite knew what to expect going into a story. You are kept on your toes as a reader.
Add to this the fact that there is also a lovely blend of stories which have open endings, where you have to make your own assumptions and read between the lines and stories which are neatly tied up with satisfying conclusions. Quite often a short story collection will contain either one or the other, and don’t get me wrong, I do like both types of ending. I like to push my imagination boundaries and think about a possible conclusion for a story, and also try to discern what the author meant to portray as their ending. But I also enjoy the neat, boxed off roundedness (if that is indeed a word!) of a fully concluded story.
I don’t know if I’ve articulated that very well but I hope you know what I’m driving at!
There are some memorable characters who appear briefly but capture your heart. The nuanced relationships, most of which are not perfect, are fascinating. Some of the stories almost feel like modern day cautionary tales about how not to go about relationships!
I adored this collection and know that it will take pride of place on my bookshelf. I am extremely excited to read more of Chloe Turner’s work.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx