Following on from my last post, about an entertaining pair of slim volumes in the Faber Stories series, today on the Ramblings I’ll be considering a trio of offerings from some very different women authors. Two are names I’ve read before; one is a writer I’m very keen to explore further; all are very thought-provoking!

The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes

Barnes is a celebrated modernist author, best known for her novel “Nightwood”. I own several of her works, and read at least that one back in the day; but frankly I can recall nothing about it, so I was interested in reacquainting myself with her writing. The three stories in this book were the only oneswritten by Barnes under the pseudonym of Lydia Steptoe, and they appeared in a variety of publications. This is the first time they’ve been published together, and so kudos to Faber for gathering them up for us; their titles are “The Diary of a Dangerous Child”, “The Diary of a Small Boy” and “Madame Grows Older: A Journal at the Dangerous Age”.

Each story features a character wrestling with burgeoning sexuality of one type or another, and there are undercurrents in each story. Whether a fourteen year old girl planning to become a virago, a young boy being tempted by his father’s mistress or an older woman falling in love and wondering whether she can be bothered with it, each of these tales subverts expectations and wrong-foots the reader. I found them wonderfully entertaining, vaguely reminiscent of Leonora Carrington although slightly less melancholy – I may have to dig out my Barnes books…

Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore

When I was up in London for a day out just over a year ago (sob…) I picked up a collection of Marianne Moore’s poetry in the wonderful Judd Books. She’s another one of those poets I’ve wanted to explore for ages, and the collection was reasonably priced and irresistible. This, however, is prose; and not new stories as such, but retelling of the fairy tales popularised by Charles Perrault. So we meet, in the originals, “Puss in Boots”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella”; and of course these are very different from the sanitised modern cartoon versions.

Puss is a wiley moggy, lying and tricking his way to status and gaining his master a princess and a castle. The princess in “Sleeping Beauty” is not actually awakened by a kiss, and is married to the prince in secret – a prince who has family skeletons of his own. And Cinderella goes to the ball more than once before losing her slipper! Moore provides an introduction explaining her love of fairy tales, and this was an unexpected and enjoyable distraction.

Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin

Celia Fremlin is an author I first read pre-blog, when I picked up a copy of her Virago title “The Hours Before Dawn”. It’s a stunning thriller which takes place in an ordinary domestic setting, with the protagonist struggling with exhaustion from bringing up children and trying to work out if her suspicions about a lodger are correct. It’s one of those books you don’t forget, and a short story of hers which featured in a recent British Library Crime Classics anthology was just as effective. So I had high hopes of this collection of two spooky stories – and I wasn’t disappointed. The titles are “The Hated House” and “The New House”, and each takes a different slant on the complex mother-daughter dynamic. In the first, a teenager revels in being left on her own for once, as her overbearing and quarrelsome parents go away for a visit. In the second, the narrator, guardian of her sister’s child, is concerned for her neice’s safety as she prepares to marry and settle down in her own home. Neither story has the outcome you might expect.

Fremlin was an exceptional author; she captures the sense of creeping dread you can have when on your own, or when you have unspecific fears, quite brilliantly. In the first story she really gets inside the head of her teenage protagonist; and she’s brilliant at the unreliable narrator. I made sure I read these in daylight because they’re most unsettling…

I’ve seen Fremlin compared to Highsmith and Jackson; and the blurb on this little Faber describes her as long-neglected. If she is (and I know a number of fellow bloggers rate her highly), she really shouldn’t be. If you want a taste of her writing, this is a good way to get it; and I think I really will have to track down more of her works.

*****

So my three female Faber Stories reads were just as good as the two male reads; truly, these are lovely little books and a great selection of authors – at least in the ones I’ve read. There *are* still a number of others which were issued (I recall seeing them in Waterstones in those Times Before when we could go out book shopping….) Time for a little online exploring… ;D