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Hair Side, Flesh Side Paperback – November 15, 2012
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This is an author to watch. She immediately goes onto my "A" list (i.e., I'll read anything she publishes).
More like these, please.
In one of the principle, featured stories, according to the book jacket, "A young woman discovers the lost manuscript of Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin." Now, what do you make of that? Who is the woman; how can something be written on the inside of her skin; is this story magical, horror, faux realistic, allegorical, weird, bizarro, humorous? How do you get a handle on what Helen Marshall is trying to do here?
Well, that particular story starts out as a character study, describing the first attraction of a young woman editor and a married novelist. It begins to drift into a tale of retribution for the dalliance. Then it moves into the weird/bizarro realm as the Austen draft is revealed. But it is presented as a real story of a real event. Then it moves back into almost a kitchen sink drama, until it transforms with a surreal climax that ties up the whole package.
This is elegant and sophisticated stuff. It's not pretty, indirect and suggestive. There are a lot of bones, and sharp instruments find their way into many of the stories. Art, apparently, is a nasty, bloody business.
This is fresh, admirable and grab you by the throat stuff. Good.
Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
The book's title is apt. Marshall dissects some of her subjects, and autopsies others. "Pieces of Broken Things" and "The Art of Dying," especially, will make you flinch. "The Mouth, Open" will kill your appetite for a while. She's not afraid to dig deep.
My two favourite stories are "Sanditon," about an editor who finds a missing Jane Austen manuscript written inside her skin, and "Dead White Men," a ghost story that would make MR James proud.
Though her stories have soft tones of other writers--Neil Gaiman, Holly Phillips, Gemma Files, and yes, even Jane Austen (she has a very good ear for dialogue,) her voice is her own.
It is well-worth hearing.