Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review: The Madonna of the Pool by Helen Stancey

2017 • 142 pages • Fairlight Books

In most short story collections, an overarching theme is usually present in each of the narratives which help each story gently flow in to the next.  In this debut collection Helen Stancey explores the quiet disappointments, achievements, and complications that each of us experience through everyday life. She draws attention to the small events and decisions that can both disrupt and significantly alter the lives of others and ourselves, all while maintaining a delicately poetic tone throughout.

This is certainly a quiet collection of stories, in that it doesn’t feel as though you’re being bombarded with dramatic imagery or metaphors. Instead, Stancey has pieced together a collection that feels subtle and truthful to the human experience without feeling overwrought. Each story follows a different character – or group of characters – as they deal with a significant event in their lives, usually one of disappointment or loss but the significance behind each of them is how the characters move on from their experience. Overall, it’s a realistic portrayal of human endurance captured in twelve short stories, each intently focused to create a snapshot of the characters’ everyday trials and triumphs.

I find short story collections great when you want a bit of variety in your reading and whilst Stancey has a poetic and dreamy way of writing, very few of these stories stuck with me. As I said, this is a very quiet collection which draws attention to the small yet challenging events in life, but I confess I did find some of them quite dry. The story that I enjoyed the most was Shall We Dance? which followed the character Anna as she attended her mother’s funeral, where she quietly reminisced on her childhood memories of her mother. Whilst a sad story it brought focus to Anna’s own relationship with her own children, and how with death comes life – an inevitable cycle we are all a part of. I found it to be the most thoughtful story in the collection and the one that I was moved by the most.

The other stories, while good, didn’t strike me as especially memorable and I think short story collections are subjective depending on their reader. Stancey’s style is certainly readable and effortless in its execution but I just wasn’t wowed by it, which is what I was hoping for. However, I did enjoy the similar tone that ran throughout each of the narratives; each story has a feeling of melancholia wrapped within it but simultaneously there is also a hint of hope and ambition beneath the sadness. I guess what Stancey was hoping to get across from this collection is that where there is disappointment, there is also optimism. For me however, where there were one or two memorable stories in this collection, the rest were simply okay.

My copy of The Madonna of the Pool was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review originally appeared on their website.

Overall rating: 2 stars

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