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Diving Belles: And Other Stories Paperback – August 7, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Lucy Wood is a sorceress. These stories unfold in a dreamy marine light, one that reveals the miraculous in the everyday. Diving Belles is a perfect name for this debut: It is guaranteed to enrapture a reader, and you'll want to come up slowly from its depths."
—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

"What sets British writer Wood apart... is how grounded the magical element is in the reality of her stories... The magic is always embedded, not only in familiar stories from folklore, but in the personal myths of the characters' lives. Thus there is a quiet realism to even the most extraordinary events... This combination of subtle humor and everyday magic makes Diving Belles an engaging collection of contemporary folklore."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"How easily Lucy Wood in Diving Belles makes magic. In story after story in her debut collection, a previously inert world becomes animated... If part of the exercise of magic is to remind us of the malleable texture of perception (and to awaken our child-like awe at the world), then the magic in 'Notes from the House Spirits' is a wonderful success. Throughout, Wood sprinkles a measured amount of magic, just enough so the rational self can slip away and let the reader wake up her perception and her childlike astonishment at the world again."

Diving Belles is a lovely, absorbing collection of tales, animated by Lucy Wood's remarkable gift for evoking Cornwall as both a physical and mythic place. She is writing out of a rich tradition yet making it utterly her own.”
—Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles and Madeleine Is Sleeping


"Each year, book blurbs tell you that a thousand new writers have fresh, distinctive voices. But fresh, distinctive voices are actually very rare. Lucy Wood has one."
—Michel Faber, author of The Crimson Petal and the White

"Lucy Wood has an intensity and clarity of expression, deeply rooted in a sense of place. Her stories have a purity and strength, and an underlying human warmth; they resonate in the mind."
—Philip Hensher, author of The Northern Clemency

"These stories are brilliantly uncanny: not because of the ghosts and giants and talking birds which haunt their margins, but because of what those unsettling presences mean for the very human characters at their centre ... A startling, and startlingly good, debut."
—Jon McGregor, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

"These are stories from the places where magic and reality meet. It is as if the Cornish moors and coasts have whispered secrets into Lucy Wood’s ears and, in response, she has fashioned exquisite tales of mystery and humanity. In her prose, the fabulous moves across the everyday like the surf moving over the shore, shifting it in subtle measures, leaving it altered in its wake."
—Ali Shaw, author of The Girl with Glass Feet


"Wood captures something fresh, fantastical and eloquent...These stories express a distinctive voice and a gently beguiling imagination."



"Whimsical...Lovers of fairy tales and Celtic lore will take pleasure in immersing themselves in the rich, magical world Wood’s tales inhabit."



"Aching and mystical...These are distinctively grown-up fairy tales that re-create a sense of wonder and imagination without the moral endings of their childhood counterparts, but, like them, linger in the imagination."

Publishers Weekly


“Magical and bewitching tales.”
Vogue (UK)

“Wood’s finely wrought collection has touches of a benign Angela Carter and recalls the playful yet political transmogrifications of Atwood and Byatt ... Dreamily nuanced.”
Guardian (UK)

"These tales are soaked in the magic and folklore of the place—but the magic is often an expression of inexpressible human emotion…Wood’s imagination is extraordinary; she has an instinct for the inner meanings of myths that echoes the great Angela Carter. Superb."
The Times (UK)

"A vibrant new voice ... Why read it: for her distinctive voice and sense of place."
Tatler, "Top Titles" (UK)

"Llovely and intriguing ... Wood pulls off a careful balancing act between fantasy and reality, folkloric past and prosaic present...Winsome, quirky, and sometimes enchanting, Wood’s stories seem to fish about in rock pools of imagination... Her gift… is for conjuring up gentle suspensions of disbelief."
The Sunday Times (UK)

"Cornish folklore for the modern day, done in a beautiful, spooky way."
Harper’s Bazaar (UK)

"This bewitching short story collection draws its power from a deft blend of Cornish folklore and everyday contemporary cares. Centered mostly around women—young women, old women, women becalmed somewhere in between—magic encroaches upon their narratives as slowly but surely as the incoming tide, so that even the most outlandish goings-on come to seem natural."
Daily Mail (UK)

"A winning combination of spooky mystery and toast-and-tea coziness, with much warmth and tenderness."
Metro (UK), 4/5 stars

"Cornwall’s magic casts some pretty strong spells. The stories in Lucy Wood’s debut collection have a distinctly otherworldly sensation to them—slightly surreal, steeped in enchantments and shimmering with an infusion of the area’s folklore and landscape… Wood strikes a sure and canny balance of worlds colliding and merging; her wry and gentle humor emphasizes that fusion all the more."
Independent on Sunday (UK)


From the Inside Flap

In the tradition of Angela Carter, this luminous, spellbinding debut reinvents the stuff of myth.

Straying husbands lured into the sea by mermaids can be fetched back, for a fee. Trees can make wishes come true. Houses creak and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A mother, who seems alone and lonely, may be rubbing sore muscles or holding the hands of her invisible lover as he touches her neck. Phantom hounds roam the moors and, on a windy beach, a boy and his grandmother beat back despair with an old white door.

In these stories, the line between the real and the imagined is blurred as Lucy Wood takes us to Cornwall’s ancient coast, building on its rich storytelling history and recasting its myths in thoroughly contemporary ways. Calling forth the fantastic and fantastical, she mines these legends for that bit of magic remaining in all our lives—if only we can let ourselves see it.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 223 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780547595535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547595535
  • ASIN: 0547595530
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tanstaafl VINE VOICE on April 14, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The dozen stories that make up this book are similar enough in feeling to meld together into a whole and different enough from one another to not get stale. Slightly mysterious or spooky or fantastical, slightly tongue-in-cheek or impish, slightly deep or even deeper, they all are relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

I read one story a night to keep them distinct. There is definitely the coziness most often associated with some British mysteries. The characters are people unlike those I know, but are like people I would like to know - at least for another story or two.

A book of such stories to spend a half-hour at a time with will always be welcome. Well written, with no wasted words, the book was a pleasure to read. Best of all, none of the stories left me wondering if I wanted to start reading the next. I always did.
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Welcome to a place where the magical and mundane are entwined. Prepare to realize that every person, place, and feeling has a story of its own. This collection of short stories ranges from wives recovering husbands lured by mermaids to a house watching over its ever chancing occupants to a boy searching for a sign of his father in a boneyard for giants. If this book teaches you anything, it is to not look at the everyday as being so everyday afterall.

I have quite mixed feelings about this book. First off, Lucy Wood writes in a way that is silky and enchanting. Her command of language is amazing, making me feel as if I were wrapped up in a giant sable on a cool winter's day. I loved the equisite way that she writes, full of sadness and beauty, joy and despair, dark and light all at once. It is quite clear that she has a tremendous gift. And I did enjoy the fact that the stories are so mystical. I liked the hints of magic and the unexplained, it felt like a game of make believe.

As with any book of short stories, some struck me more than others. I particularly enjoyed Of Mothers and Little People, as well as Notes from the House Spirits. They were sweet and sad at the same time. My only real criticism of the book is that I found a lack of resolution to the stories. It seems like the just start and stop so abruptly. It made me feel as if I were dreaming, or trying to hear underwater or something. And this is not necessarily a bad thing overall regarding the book. It just left me wanting a little closure.
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This is a collection of short stories, all based around the area of Cornwall. Most have a touch of the fantastical/magical, ranging from a woman using a diving bell to search for her husband who has turned into a sea creature (the title story), to house spirits commenting on the people who come and go in their lives, to a storyteller who is losing his memory. One of the stories tells of a woman who begins to have the signs that she will turn into a stone as part of a circle, and frets about being in the right place at the right time while she deals with some of the mundane details of her life. One of my favorite stories tells of a woman working in an elderly care home for magic practitioners which combines the poignancy of end of life issues with added dangers of wayward magic. The author does a nice job of incorporating elements of Cornish folklore into each tale.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Lucy Wood, in her debut, presents us with a host of finely crafted introductions, but few finished "plots". For the most part, these are not stories in the conventional sense, with a beginning-middle-end plot. Rather, they are pictures in a scrapbook, bits and moments and frozen tableaux. These are "stories" about losing something precious, about fighting denial and recognizing the loss of a dream, another person, oneself. Memory and perception overlap, intertwine, merge. A woman surrenders to memories of a ghost, until she disappears into his drowned world. The spirits of a house -- not ghosts, more like genii locii -- reminisce about tenants, carpets, silverfish and a persistently invasive buddleia. The format is nearly formulaic: a character comes onstage, ruminates on the past, on relationships, on what she (it's almost always a woman) is going to do, and then enters a door or the water or some other portal, and the "story" comes to an end. Ms. Wood is not concerned with the conventional resolution. It's one tease after another.

But they are interesting teases, interesting portals. There's no question that her prose is first rate; Lucy Wood is already being favorably compared to writers like Angela Carter. I would even compare her to surrealists like Leonora Carrington. Ms. Wood's descriptions evoke the Minimalists in that they describe a surface -- often polished to a high, glossy sheen, so glossy one cannot see into the depths. She uses short, one-syllable words where possible, a stylistic choice which would seem to render her prose spare and light, but actually gives it a faintly ominous rhythm, like the beating of a heart. Sometimes her prose seems a little too polished, perhaps over-worked.
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Format: Paperback
Fantastical tales, most of which feature the sea and a heightened sense of the (super)natural world. The first and titular story tells of a woman who had lost her husband to the sea - to become a merman - and she decides to go down in a diving bell to find him at the bottom of the sea 20 years later. The revelation is both magical and touching, and paves the way the 11 stories following it.
A feature that binds these stories together in this collection is Wood's interweaving of magical elements into realist settings. For example, in "Countless Stones" a woman gradually turns to stone from her toes upwards in the heart of winter, while she good-naturedly house-hunts with an ex-boyfriend. It reminded me of A. S. Byatt's story, "A Stone Woman", from her 2003 collection "Little Black Book of Stories".

There is a dreamlike quality to most of the pieces, especially in "Notes from the House Spirits", where in an ironic twist, the ghosts in a house are distressed by the sudden departure of an occupant without taking her belongings. The spirits note that "they have become left-behind things. They have become awkward and extra, things that don't belong. It is inevitable."

Familial relationships are explored in other stories like "Mothers and Little People" where a grownup daughter presumes the loneliness of her divorced mother during a visit, and accidentally 'sees' that the latter might not be as isolated as she thought when she smears on her mom's mysterious eye cream.
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