Orange World By Karen Russell – A Review

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Publication Date: 4th July 2019

You all know by now that I love a short story collection but I think Orange World by Karen Russell may have passed me by if it hadn’t have been for me chancing upon a review of the collection in The Guardian by the marvellous Daisy Johnson.  The review is here and you should maybe read that instead of my review as Daisy puts my thoughts into much more eloquent words than I ever could.

I will of course endeavour to tell you my opinion on this collection though, otherwise why are we here!

This collection of 8 stories is pretty mind expanding!  A couple of years ago, if anyone had ever told me I would be reading and enjoying stories about dead bog girl girlfriends and women suckling the devil I’d have laughed in their faces.  However, this kind of crazy magic is now what I live for reading wise.

In The Prospectors we meet two young girls in 1930’s USA, getting by on swindling hapless men and living a high old life until they get beguiled by the potential glitz and glamour of a brand new ski resort hotel at the top of a mountain.  They make the journey up on a ski-lift but what greets them at the top is far from what they were ever expecting.

In The Bad Graft a young woman becomes cross pollinated or infected by the sap of a Joshua Tree and fights to regain control of her own body and thoughts.

Bog-Girl: A Romance tells the story of how one young man chances upon the fully preserved corpse of a bog-girl from the middle ages whilst digging up peat.  He feels a connection with this young girl who has been frozen in time and takes her on as his girlfriend.

The Tornado Auction tells the tale of a lonely old widow, who’s daughters have long since flown the nest.  Feeling inert and disinterested in life he takes to farming tornado’s.  Curating weather can be big business and he wants to travel back in time to when his family owned a tornado farm and feel alive again.  That is until his carefully nurtured tornado rages out of control.

I think for me the most fascinating tale was the title story of Orange World where a new mother makes a bargain with the devil that she will breastfeed him night after night in return for him keeping her new baby boy safe.  When this all becomes too much for the exhausted mother, she enlists the help of the postnatal group Mum’s to rid her of the demon she has invited in.

In each of these memorable stories there is a very distinct element of future worlds.  A hint of the dystopian, which was for me just enough.  Each story starts out as fairly ‘normal’ and quite quickly turns into something far more off the beaten track!  I found myself almost holding my breath as I read, waiting for the twist, the ingenuity, the ‘unusual’ element in each tale.  It is stories like these that make me admire authors like Karen Russell so so much.  I am in complete awe of her imagination.  I almost want to peer inside her brain and see what on earth is going on in there!  To be able to craft these compelling, mind-bending tales is such a great skill, and Karen Russell has it in absolute spades.

Her characterisation is fabulous.  It is sometimes difficult to get a full grasp of all the various nuances of characters when they are presented to you in short story form.  But with each of the protagonsists in Orange World (and sometimes even the peripheral characters) they feel fully developed and authentic.  These people and their stories feel almost ‘colourful’ and I hope you know what I mean when I say this!  They are vibrant and full of life and intrigue.  Each protagonist can be considered to be someone living on the periphery of the norm, not part of the masses, a little bit different, isolated, ‘out there’.  Be that the new exhausted mother, the young gondolier girl who navigates tricky flood waters by echolocation, the doctor who may or may not have performed a medical procedure incorrectly and is finding himself with the weight of suspicion hanging over him.

Of the eight stories in this collection there was only one that I didn’t really gel very well with but the others I can call to mind very easily by their characters or the worlds they depicted.

This was my first Karen Russell book and her third short story collection but I have heard nothing but great things about Vampires In The Lemon Grove and St Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves. I will most definitely be checking them both out.

If you’re in the market for a collection of quirky tales I would highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Orange World.  I’m so chuffed to have found another author I know I will continue to enjoy.

Thank you as always to the publisher and Polly Collier for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

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