It’s a Hesperus! It’s E.M. Forster! It’s in lovely condition and only £1.50! Those were the thoughts that ran through my head when I picked this up in the Samaritans Book Cave, and as I seem to be stuck in “flinging myself into a book” mode, I did so with this! I should confess up front that although I have much Forster on Mount TBR, I’ve actually read very little – to be precise, two short stories which I reviewed here. However, these stories are somewhat different – they were only collected and published after Forster’s death, and the reason for this is that the subject matter or subtext in them is essentially “the love that dare not speak its name”. We now of course know that E.M. Forster was gay, but during his lifetime it was impossible because of the prevailing mores for him to be open about this – which is not only a personal tragedy, but a literary one because this rather excellent collection really shouldn’t have languished out of print for such a long time.

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It’s hard to review short stories, I find – do you cover each on in detail, pick out your favourites or try to give a general impression of the collection? Certainly, there is a common subtext in these pieces, that of repressed sexuality (whether male or female) and also much implied criticism of the current social mores and the general Colonial attitudes displayed. However, each of these little gems is wonderful in its own right. The title story, in particular, was possibly my favourite; it tells the tale of Hilda and Ernest, an ordinary, bickering couple out at the coast. Neither of them seem particularly happy, until a chance encounter with two very different sailors affects the couple’s relationship very unexpectedly…. This is a quite wonderfully clever piece of writing with a kicker twist at the end – I shall say no more!

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Some of the stories are a darker, however. “The Life to Come”, in which a missionary influences and changes a ‘primitive’ civilisation has much to say about the impact of so-called progress on a people who are quite happy the way they are. “Dr. Woolacott” and “The Classical Annex” blur the lines between reality and dreams. “The Other Boat” and “Arthur Snatchfold” deal with the social consequences of sexual transgression. And all feature Forster’s wonderful prose.

“The visit, like the view, threatened monotony. Dinner had been dull. His own spruce grey head, gleaming in the mirrors, really seemed the brightest object about. Trevor Donaldson’s head was mangy, Mrs. Donaldson’s combed up into bastions of iron. He did not get unduly fussed at the prospect of boredom. He was a man of experience with plenty of resources and plenty of armour, and a decent human being too.”

This is a really excellent collection of stories: thought-provoking, sad, uplifting, funny and very, very well written. Forster was obviously an incredibly talented writer and we can be glad he produced his masterpieces – but also a little sad that some of his writings had to be suppressed until more enlightened times.

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