This is a curious read for the TripFiction team as the setting for her writing is very strong, but the stories and jottings themselves are from Katherine Mansfield’s imagination, whilst IN Switzerland.
At the end of May 1921 Katherine Mansfield, aged 32, was seriously ill with TB. Staying at the Hotel Château de Belle Vue (and later at the Hotel d’Angleterre) in Sierre in the Rhone Valley she saw an advertisement for Chalet des Sapins high above Sierre at a place called Montana-sur-Sierre (now Crans Montana).
Settled there she got to work on writing and this is a collection of her work written whilst she was in Switzerland. The chalet was “so high up (5000 feet above the sea) that a cool breeze filters through from Heaven, and the forests are always airy…the windows look over the tree tops across a valley to snowy peaks the other side”. Clearly an inspirational setting for writing!
The stories are very much of an era and cover all manner of situations. Musings on why couples stay together, little vignettes of card games, a mother putting her baby to bed; an outing in the Picton boat where the hard brown soap would not lather, the stiff sheets…
She may have often been lying in bed, but in her mind she was travelling. At points she was in England, bringing to life some quintessentially English situations, and off to the South of France and New Zealand, where she was born. The stories are put together chronologically and as the book nears its end, she clearly becomes more preoccupied with mortality….
The stories and fragments – some are left unfinished – are nicely brought together in this edition. The book itself is beautifully presented, in the trademark colours of Persephone Press, a gorgeous lining and matching bookmark.
The Montana Stories is a collection of Katherine Mansfield's last works, including some partially finished. The stories are beautiful - just ready for you to fall into. Because they have been collected chronologically, there is the second narrative of Mansfield's life running through the stories, which is complemented by an excellent Publisher's Commentary. Especially as the book neared its end, and the stories became more preoccupied with age and death, I found I couldn't drag my mind away from the characters and their lives.
The simple English situations offer a nostalgic comfort for readers even though the characters are often not comfortable. Mansfield's skill lies in her ability to represent the ordinary - and in some ways affirming - pain and worry that is part of every-day experience. Although many of the situations are no longer directly relevant, the humanity of the characters make the stories incredibly immersive. Everything that happens is related with such skill and simple interest that they are compelling even to modern readers.
I enjoyed the inclusion of the partially finished stories, they brought Mansfield's clear and intelligent style into the foreground, where the plot was less complete. I think my favorite story was The Fly; I've read a lot about the First World War, but there is something original in this story that affected me.