The Beautiful Indifference Paperback – 17 Nov 2011
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'Seven skilfully adrenalised stories, precise and sensual, in which the scent of violence is a constant.' -- Helen Simpson, Guardian Books of the Year >> 'Reaches a standard that makes award juries sit up and take note . . . Hall's voice is strong and distinctive even, in single, elevated passages, exquisite.' -- Lionel Shriver, Financial Times >> 'Shows her characteristic ability to cause disquiet ... Hall's sharply perceptive observations strike like slaps ... There is a deeply sensual element to her writing: it is visceral and instinctive ... It's like sinking into a Rothko painting. Language is used inventively. These are stimulating, unsettling stories... [they] intrigue and mesmerise.' -- Independent on Sunday >> 'Hall evokes her landscapes with bewitchingly vivid prose. Her writing is gutteral and visceral, and her characters are raw and sinewy ... Every one of the seven tales here delights and disturbs in equal measure. The Beautiful Indifference illustrates that short fiction is indeed a finely wrought art form, and Hall is an artist of considerable and concise skill. Each story is a gem, but together they form a collection of astonishingly sensuous power ... Hall is a writer of both rare vision and talent.' -- Sunday Times >> 'These stories constantly thwart one's dramatic expectations - and are all the more dramatic for it ... This prose, particularly when used to convey the bleakness of the Cumbrian landscape, is wonderful ... She does darkness so very well.' -- The Times >> 'Sarah Hall's four novels have already shown her to be a writer of extraordinary talents, whether in the rough magic of The Carhullan Army, about female resistance in a near-future police state, or the passionate intertwined narratives of art and identity that make up the Booker-longlisted How to Paint a Dead Man. With her first short-story collection, her writing takes another leap forward, into a landscape entirely her own ....The erotic charge of Hall's writing, its fierce physical power, coexists with her characters' sense of separation: each is a world entire, and they retain their depth, their mystery.' -- --Justine Jordan, Guardian
A new collection of short stories by Booker-shortlisted author Sarah Hall.See all Product description
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Hall is good on suspense and best at leaving readers to speculate on `outcomes'. For instance, in the title story, the central character has three boxes of painkillers in her purse. Does Hall's throw-away sentence, `Her mother was the same age', indicate an intention to commit suicide? Another remark supports the idea: `What would they say about her attire, if they found her in the bracken'? The story's ending is highly suggestive: `The hills were around her. She took up her purse, opened the car door. It was like opening a book.' The pared-down style may shock readers already familiar with Hall as the lyrical novelist of `Haweswater', `The Electric Michelangelo' and `How to Paint a Dead Man'. In these stories, Hall's short staccato sentences work well. They are ideally suited to a literary genre where concise expression and suggested meaning are paramount. Unfortunately, in `The Beautiful Indifference', the loss of lyricism and the flatness in Hall's expression results in emotional indifference in the reader. With the exception of `Bees', in which Hall marvelously highlights the difficulties of a Cumbrian girl making a start to her new life in London, it is difficult to care about Hall's characters and what may happen to them.
Over-many stories suffer from an intrusive implausibility that, of all things, involves mobile phones! Hall evidently intends `Butcher's Perfume', the first story in the collection, to be `slice of life' stuff involving teenage girls. It's unbelievable that Kathleen and Manda don't have phones in order to keep in contact like every other teenager! In the title story, Hall tells us that the man `always texted afterwards, to thank her'. If it's `not uncommon' for the man to be late for an assignation it's incredible that the couple haven't worked something out on their phones In `Bees', Hall writes evocatively about the central character who `acquaints herself' with a London which Hall wonderfully refers to as a `faceted city' . Yet, implausibly, there is no mention of help from a mobile phone! In `She Murdered Mortal Me', Hall tells us that `late night texts' have been `formative' in the relationship of the couple. But where are their phones when they are separately walking through the jungle at night?
`The Agency' is the exception in the collection. Hall demonstrates how mobile use can underscore character and behaviour. Hannah, housewife and mother, having hidden a laddered black stocking in the kitchen bin, emerges from the bath to three missed calls. The first is from her husband indicating when he will be home having collected their daughter from swimming; the second is from `The Agency' confirming her next `appointment'; the third is from the friend who introduced Hannah to the agency asking if she would mind looking after her daughter next day. Hall's ending beautifully illustrates Hannah's indifference to guilt and the shared complicity in action with the friend:
`I called her back and agreed to mind Laura. We spoke for a moment or two. There was a pause in the conversation, and the came her gay, indecorous laughter.
Oh, we must catch up soon. I do hope you had a jolly time in the city today.
I was just visiting a relative, I said.
She laughed again. Yes. Of course, darling. Of course.'
`The Nightlong River' is exceptional for a different reason: Hall confronts the `the truth of death' (Magda's and the minks') in a memorably stylish fashion in typically wondrous imagery. In `The Beautiful Indifference', the best is second last:
`Magda was delighted with the cape. She got glistery-eyed when she saw it next morning and got up from her bed like a miracle-walker.
She said, You hang the moon, Dolly Carter, you hang the moon!
And she kissed my check and hugged me to her until I blushed scarlet. She had me put the garment over her shoulders and fasten the horn button, and then she curtsied like a proper dame. She looked like a silky portion of night before me, and I did wonder if I hadn't reached down into some charmed well of pitch, contracting with a rabble of spirits to create the thing.'
On the other hand, `Vuotjärvi', the final story, is the weakest and most implausible of the lot. If the woman is so worried about her partner (and intruding on the Finnish neighbours!) why not ring the woman who has lent the house and whose mobile she had called earlier that day? Hall achieves suspense but, here and elsewhere, it is at the expense of plausibility. Implausibility is acceptable if it can be willingly suspended; that's not consistently the case in Hall's first short story collection.
Out of seven stories, "Butcher’s Perfume" stopped me breathing (but just for a couple of pages) and "Vuotjärvi" was an easy-flowing story, clear like water of the lake where one can easily drawn. As to the rest… Not my favourite collection.
And likewise I eked out the other six, none of which, although variously beautiful, memorable and all worthy of re-reading, had quite the same impact.
But that's the beauty of short stories - another day, another joyous opportunity.