Short Story Collection

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

While idly browsing the shelves of a second hand book store a random book caught my eye. A blue spine and a name, Girl in Hyacinth Blue. As I read the blurb I felt that it probably wasn’t my kind of book. But something made me want to try it anyway.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland is the story of a fictional painting by Vermeer. Eight interconnected tales, all linked to the past and the present of this piece of art, are presented in this book.

The eight short tales are Love Enough, A Night Different From All Other Nights, Adagia, Hyacinth Blues, Morningshine, From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers, Still Life and Magdalena Looking.

The book chronicles the journey of the painting through the ages but the journey is not presented in a chronological way. Its history unfolds in reverse.

The book begins with Love Enough. A math teacher by profession and a loner by choice Cornelius Engelbrecht suddenly reveals to his unsuspecting colleague that he may own a hitherto unknown painting by Vermeer. However, he refuses to disclose where he acquired the painting from, casting a doubt on its authenticity.

A young Jewish girl struggles with the changing times and her own entry in to adulthood during the Second World War in A Night Different From All Other Nights.

In Adagia, a man thinks with tenderness about the lost love of his youth and his long time marriage.

The next story, Hyacinth Blues takes a rather comic look at a rapidly disintegrating marriage of convenience.

The next two stories, Morningshine and From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers, take place almost simultaneously and are closely linked. A poor farmer’s wife finds an abandoned infant and starts to look for beauty in her own dreary life in Morningshine. From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers is the story of a young man who falls for a wild, nomadic girl with tragic consequences.

The last two stories, Still Life and Magdalena Looking take us right back to the moment the painting was conceived. Still Life is told from the point of view of the painter while Magdalena Looking tells us about the ‘real’ girl behind the painting.

The writing was very easy to read. It flowed beautifully and the language was elegant. Once I started reading the book I couldn’t stop. I tried to slow down, to enjoy the unfolding of the layered history of the painting. But even with deliberate interruptions I ended up finishing it off in a day and a half.

Among the stories I liked Adagia, Hyacinth Blues, Morningshine, From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers and Magdalena Looking.

I know a lot of people don’t enjoy short stories. Some may find this book further complicated by the fact that it is told in the reverse. But that is the beauty of the book. That is what made this interesting for me. I wanted to see what happened before this and what led the painting to this house or to the hands of that person.

All the people who came in contact with the painting, living their lives throughout the intervening centuries from the inception of the painting to its present circumstance, were profoundly touched by it. All of them took away something different from it. That is what I really loved about Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

I read this book without any prior expectations and what a pleasant surprise this has been! Highly recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Very Good, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

 

Very Good, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse is a collection of eleven short stories. All of these stories feature Bertie Wooster and his trusted butler Jeeves.

The collection was published in 1930. The stories themselves appeared in various magazines from 1926 to 1930.

In Jeeves and the Impending Doom (1926) Bertie must stop young cousin Thomas from exacting revenge on the Right Hon. A.B. Filmer all the while trying to appease aunt Agatha and keeping his friend Bingo Little out of trouble. I found the part about the short tempered swan to be particularly hilarious!

The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy (1926) has Bertie trying to help Sippy become more confident by standing up to his old headmaster and wining the hand of a young poetess. Meanwhile, Jeeves hates Bertie’s new vase. It is a reasonably funny story.

In Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit (1927) Bertie goes to spend Christmas at Skeldings Hall instead of Monte Carlo much to the chagrin of Jeeves. I think this is the story where the reason behind Bertie’s thirst for revenge against Tuppy Glossop is mentioned for the first time. This revenge story becomes a recurring one in almost every story that features Bertie and Tuppy together.

Jeeves and the Song of Songs (1929) has Bertie right in the middle of Tuppy Glossop’s tangled love life as he is forced to sing at a concert for Beefy Bingham. Anyone who has seen the 1990 series Jeeves and Wooster will appreciate this story even more. I recently watched a re-run of the show (I am too young to remember its original run) and thought  Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were absolutely marvellous in it!

In Episode of the Dog McIntosh (1929) the capricious Bobbie Wickham returns after the debacle of the Skeldings Hall Christmas as Bertie once again gets in to trouble with Aunt Agatha. This is an okay story.

In The Spot of Art (1929) Bertie falls for an artist, Gwladys Pendlebury and his rival in love Lucius Pim moves in to his house. I didn’t really find this story very interesting.

Jeeves and the Kid Clementina (1930) finds Bertie face to face with Bobbie Wickham again and soon he is in trouble anew. This story was reasonably funny. I enjoyed it.

In The Love That Purifies (1929) young Thomas’s true love for a screen goddess puts aunt Dahlia in danger of losing her cook extraordinaire Anatole. This story is funny and enjoyable.

Bingo Little’s married life is once again in jeopardy and once again its Jeeves to the rescue in Jeeves and the Old School Chum (1930). This is one of the best stories of the book.

In Indian Summer of an Uncle (1930), uncle George’s entanglement with a young waitress enrages aunt Agatha and Bertie, much to his dismay, is given the responsibility of breaking the affair up. Once again a funny and interesting story.

In the final story, The Ordeal of Young Tuppy (1930), young Tuppy Glossop intends to impress a country girl by playing a rather brutal game of village rugby. Jeeves duly interferes. This story was quite enjoyable.

My favourites are Jeeves and the Impending Doom, Jeeves and the Song of Songs, The Love That Purifies, Jeeves and the Old School Chum, Indian Summer of an Uncle and The Ordeal of Young Tuppy.

The book actually gets better as it goes on. The last few stories were really enjoyable.

I think I prefer Jeeves short stories to the novels. As it is I am really fond of short stories and the Jeeves short stories are definitely right up my alley.

I really enjoyed reading Very Good, Jeeves. It’s a pity it was a library book and I had to return it. This is the kind of book that I’d like to re-read in the future. Recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Phantom Coach and Other Stories by Amelia B. Edwards

The Phantom Coach and Other Stories is a collection of horror stories by Amelia B. Edwards.

Amelia B. Edwards (1831 –1892) was a prominent Victorian English author, traveller and Egyptologist. Edwards was well known for her ghost stories. In her later life she more or less abandoned her literary career in favour of her career as an Egyptologist. She had co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund (now the Egypt Exploration Society) in 1882 and the University College London has the Edwards Chair of Egyptology named after her.

My edition of The Phantom Coach and Other Stories contains altogether six stories, The Phantom Coach, An Engineer’s Story, A Service of Danger, The Story of Salome, Was it an Illusion? and How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries.

I had read the first story The Phantom Coach in an anthology as a child and thought it was really scary. After the re-read, I still think it’s pretty good. But too much time is spent on dwelling upon other non-ghost related things like the boring evening the protagonist spends with his elderly host.

An Engineer’s Story is an irritatingly melodramatic story. In it a materialistic woman is the cause of the rift between two best friends.

A Service of Danger is a predictable story but overall pretty okay.

The Story of Salome is once again predictable but not terrible. The ghostly presence is a tad more prominent in this story.

Was it an Illusion? is somewhat gruesome. The main incident disturbed me.

The last story How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries is a half baked tale. It feels as though the story is an unfinished draft of a story.

The problem with most of the stories is that they are almost all ordinary stories with a ghostly presence tacked on as an afterthought. Their rambling nature doesn’t help either.

The stories are terribly predictable. With each and every story it is obvious from the very first page what the conclusion is going to be.

As a fan of vintage horror and a Victorian lit enthusiast, I was really looking forward to reading this horror collection by Edwards. My memory of The Phantom Coach had made me pick this book up. But The Phantom Coach and Other Stories is sadly disappointing. Definitely not up to my expectations.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sailor’s Knots by W. W. Jacobs

W. W. Jacobs (1863 – 1943) was an English short story writer & novelist. He mainly wrote stories about sailors and the marine life. Humour was his favoured genre. But his most renowned story remains the macabre horror story The Monkey’s Paw.

I finished the short story collection Sailor’s Knots by Jacobs a while ago. I read another one of his short story collections, The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories, last year. It had the horror classic, The Monkey’s Paw in it. I had quite enjoyed The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. I picked up Sailor’s Knots because it contains another one of Jacobs’ famous horror short stories, The Toll-House, in it.

Sailor’s Knots was published in 1909. This collection includes twelve short stories, Deserted, Homeward Bound, Self-help, Sentence Deferred, Matrimonial Openings, Odd Man Out, The Toll-House, Peter’s Pence, The Head of the Family, Prize Money, Double Dealing and Keeping Up Appearances. All of the stories, except for The Toll-House, are light-hearted and humorous in nature.

Most of the stories in Sailor’s Knots feature accounts of the village life, sailors and life at the sea.

I’m sadly disappointed at this collection. Sentence Deferred was the only story that I found to be clever and funny. Odd Man Out, Peter’s Pence and Keeping Up Appearances were okay. The horror story The Toll-House was only mildly scary.

On the bright side, this is an extremely short book. The short stories are truly short. Most of them don’t go beyond even ten pages.

Overall, Sailor’s Knots is not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. A rather unsatisfactory collection of stories.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.