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A Charming, Amusing and Mystical Collection of Short Stories
on 7 November 2012
Joanne Harris' latest book, the enticingly named 'A Cat, A Hat and a Piece of String' is a wonderful collection of her short stories and a book which demonstrates, yet again, the author's talent as a teller of imaginatively superior tales.
There is an interesting introduction to this collection, where Joanne Harris explains how she chose her title and, in addition to the main introduction, Harris also includes a short intro to each story - the first of which starts with "Stories are like Russian dolls: open them up and in each one you'll find another story" which leads us nicely into: 'River Song'. This story is the absorbing coming of age tale of Ngok and Catfish and Catfish's gang, which is set in Brazzaville, in the Congo. When Ngok is in danger of being excluded from the gang of children who earn their living by jumping into the river and riding the rapids for the entertainment of tourists, she decides to challenge Catfish by persuading him to take part in a very perilous bet with the proviso that if she wins, she stays in the gang. When Catfish takes up the challenge and ends up in very real danger, does Ngok opt to help him, or does she decide to take the glory for herself?
In the heart-warming tale 'Faith and Hope Fly South' we meet two lovely, elderly ladies living in a rest home, who are trying to cope with the indignities of old age when they still feel young at heart. When they are punished for a misdemeanor (escaping from the home and taking a trip to London) by being left out of a coach outing to Blackpool, our ladies try bravely not to show how upset they are; but then something happens which changes their day alone at the home entirely. We meet these ladies again later on the book in another short story: 'Faith and Hope Get Even' which is a very entertaining and amusing tale. In the very poignant: 'Would You Like to Reconnect' we meet a mother who continues her close relationship with her only son when he goes to university by getting online and keeping in touch through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. When a tragedy befalls them, the mother manages to keep going purely through a rather unusual online connection, which might encourage us to ask the question "Is there anybody there?" in quite a different way. And in the story: 'Cookie' we read of one woman's dark and complex relationship with food - a sad and rather unsettling tale of an obsession that might just put you off cupcakes. One of my favourites was the interestingly titled: 'Dee Eye Why' which is the involving and rather creepy story of a man who, after his marriage break-up, pours all his love and energy into restoring an atmospheric old house; and these are just some of the stories in this entertaining collection.
In common with many short story collections, some of these stories are more satisfying than others, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of the tales in this attractively presented edition. I intended to keep this in the car to read whilst waiting to collect my son, but once I started the book I had to bring it indoors and read the whole lot in one very greedy gulp. Charming, imaginative, mystical, poignant and amusing, this collection of stories makes for a perfect bedtime or fireside companion - and would make someone a great present for Christmas.
N.B: The stories in this collection are: /River Song/Faith and Hope Fly South/There's No Such Place as Bedford Falls/Would You Like to Reconnect/Rainy Days and Mondays/Dryad/Harry Stone and the 24-Hour Church of Elvis/The Ghosts of Christmas Present/Wildfire in Manhattan/Cookie/Ghosts in the Machine/Dee Eye Why/Muse/The Game/Faith and Hope Get Even/Road Song/.