John Burnside, The Bell Ringer & Peach Melba (from the collection Something Like Happy, 2013)
Is it still time to wish you all an awesome start of 2018? I hope so.
I normally start of the year with making stats and choosing my favorite books for the previous year, but we’re having a slow start after a hectic end-of-year over here, so I’m just pushing the “Publish” button today for the first time of 2018 to praise 2 shorts stories sent by Danielle.
One of the few 2017 resolutions that I was able to keep was reading more short stories, and Danielle contributed to my discovering new stories and new (to me!) authors. I’m so grateful. I have never heard of John Burnside before and couldn’t even tell when these stories were written.
I could tell that they are definitely British (there’s a stiff upper lip factor, and the witty replies are quite distinctive), but they are timeless and could have been written in the 1930s or 1950s. There’s a nostalgic tone that appealed to me and the writing was exquisite.
“Peach Melba” was about an old man reminiscing his meeting with a woman when he was a boy, a chance encounter that shaped him throughout his life in quiet ways. But the real stunner was “The Bell-Ringer”, that portrayed a middle-aged wife stuck at home in a lonely marriage (her husband works abroad and rarely comes home, only to bully her or ignore her). I loved the images of wintry countryside, with snow and quiet, interrupted by the church bells reminder of history and traditions. It’s a classic short story in style and form, with its understated hints left throughout the story and the epiphany at the end, and it’s really a gem. It reminded me of Raymond Carver’s stories, only on the other side of the Atlantic.
I felt really lucky to start the year this way by discovering a new story and a great writer. Stats and best of the year will come soon!