Short story collections are my go to reading of choice at present. The form allows readers moments of indulgence, brief interludes into the lives of a story’s characters, their time period and their place, hence they may the perfect commuter companion. There is however, an admirable complexity to the telling of a story in the short form, there is a certain satisfaction about engaging with a collection containing multiple voices and styles that is rarely achieved elsewhere. A further point of admiration for me, is a when a collection achieves a surprising and yet startling sense of place and that is precisely what Cornish Short Stories, the newly published collected edited by Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley achieves.
The stories in this collection are complex, complicated and intriguing. You will not find on these pages tributes to tourist towns or odes to the great Cornish pasty. Yes, there are familiar traditions, places and tales but they are not explored in expected ways. In ‘The Siren’ of Treen for example the long passed down tale of ‘The Mermaid of Zennor’ is reimagined, brought to life for a new generation of readers with a modern twist and a clear and provocative voice. Anastasia Gammon’s ‘The Haunting of Bodmin Jail’ provides a darkly comic and witty portrait of one of ‘the most haunted places in Britain’ and demonstrates a canny awareness of craft from a refreshing new voice.
The collection is certainly not what it first appears. Of course, it is an homage to Cornwall – its culture and its people and there is a celebration of its distinctive and instantly recognisable landscape but the voices showcased here demonstrate that Cornwall is more than just a place of scenic beauty and rural idealism. The landscape is dangerous, looming and foreboding and provides a perfect backdrop to stories of heartbreak, failing marriages ghosts and seafaring. Each and every voice here is vivid, vital and insistent. These stories slip into your mind long after they are read and almost demand that the reader reconsiders their notions of what it is to live in Cornwall and be Cornish. A masterful collection full of voices who are celebrating, championing and redefining the county, Cornish Short Stories is thoroughly recommended.
Cornish Short Stories: A collection of contemporary Cornish writing is published today.