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5.0 out of 5 stars She was no longer Susan Rawlings, mother of four, wife of Matthew, employer of Mrs Parkes and of Sophie Traub..., 23 April 2014
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This review is from: The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (Paperback)
My favourite story of this collection is, of all things, a disappearance mystery The Enigma by John Fowles. A successful city broker as well as a Conservative Member of Parliament, John Marcus Fielding had a good marriage, an attractive and well-liked wife, and a beautiful house in the country. As the story gathers the pieces of his life together and no explanation emerges from the initial investigations the case is passed over to a Special Branch Sergeant, Jennings. It is his investigation into the MP’s disappearance that gradually comes to suggest one possible outcome to the puzzle. I especially liked this story because of the personable Sergeant Jennings, and the conversations he has in the pursuit of a solution.

Of the other stories I also liked Angus Wilson’s story of a chancer on the make in the environs of the minor aristocracy More Friend Than Lodger, and I also would put the story by Kingsley Amis, My Enemy’s Enemy and Ted Hughs’ beautiful and terrifying story The Rain Horse on a par with both of them, the latter is especially atmospheric and eerie as it describes an attack by a horse on a man walking across country in the rain.

The inimitable Doris Lessing contributes a strange story To Room Nineteen, about a woman who has everything, a wonderful husband, four beautiful children, a beautiful house and no money worries. In spite of this she lacks one thing, solitude. She takes a room in a seedy hotel and takes herself off there solely for the pleasure of knowing that nobody knows where she is. I feel that many woman will identify with that feeling. However much one has in material terms, there comes a time when you want to be free of the obligation to be who you manifestly are, to escape yourself and be other than the things that confine and thereby define you. I especially enjoyed this story, but felt the conclusion went a bit too far for verisimilitude.

Fay Weldon’s contribution was almost the obverse of Lessing’s dilemma and reminded me of a Georgina Hammick story, whose title I’ve forgotten, that painted a hellish picture of an overbearing husband whom the wife has to placate and kow-tow to with a ceaseless domestic servitude, and a family commentary amounting to emotional cruelty.

Other stories range from Rose Tremain’s My Wife Is A White Russian – a man reaching the end of his functional life left to the care of an indifferent wife, to the scurrilously funny story by Martin Amis, Let Me Count The Times about a man obsessed with cataloguing his sex life – even when it mostly takes place in his imagination. A very good collection of stories, no longer "modern", perhaps, but British at it’s erstwhile best.
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