Doing a degree in Philosophy completely ruined my love of reading. As a child I devoured books, reading 2, 3, 4 at a time. The library was my happy place. And then aged 19 I trundled off to University, where my degree required me to read incessantly and in time I totally lost my passion. But as time passed I’ve decided to give it another go, and this is where this story starts for me.
‘The Rental Heart and other fairytales’
Written by the local-ish (Glasgow) writer Kirsty Logan and is a book of (mostly) queer, short stories. How much more perfect could that be? I picked up a copy in my favourite book shop ‘Looking Glass Books’ (if you’ve not been you should check it out – quirky selection of books, beautiful setting for reading or writing, super friendly staff and great tea and snacks) and was gutted to find out that the author had given a reading the week before and I’d missed it!
If you’re someone like me who loves something to spark the imagination off then this was perfect. This book can be quite abstract, super metaphorical and relies heavily on you, the reader having a mind that will run away with itself. They’re short stories, they can only cover so much. If I’m honest I read the book twice through in quick succession, as there was plenty that I missed the first time round, and I’ll probably read it again and discover new details, new stories within the stories.
It’s hard to do the book justice with a blog-sized ration of words, but I can give you a flavour of what I took from it, and you can read it yourself and let me know what you think!
“Now the world is so loud that I can’t hear anything, everything is colours and sound and sky and planes and the burn of alcohol and her body – her body on mine, in mine, skin and bone and sinew merging, and this is it, it’s now. We are.”
– The last 3600 Seconds
Most of the stories are contemporary, but a couple will pull us back to times gone-by with the excellent ‘Underskirts’ taking us back to (perhaps) the late nineteenth-early twentieth century and providing snapshots from each character into one lady-of-the-house’s love affairs with her servants. Some of the ‘tales were suggestive of very familiar fairytales: a lesbian beauty and the best, a queer Cinderella story… Others were more folk stories totally unfamiliar to me. Perhaps unfamiliar to anyone bar the writer herself. Each with a completely unexpected twist, a brand new view.
“Parents still tell their children bedtime stories: two wicked witches, perched in their chicken-legged house, hiding away from the world”
Across the twenty tales we experience many manifestations of grief, loss, love, and lust. The stories will challenge your imagination,questions your sense of what is right, and pull you out of your day-to-day grind in a story short enough to fit into your lunch hour. Perfect!
The first thing that hit me about the book was the number of unapologetically queer love stories, and to my delight, in particular queer love stories of women (which as far as I’m concerned are hard to come by). There are stories juxtaposing the fear and happiness of a lesbian couple having their first child in ‘A Skulk of Saints’; a fast-paced insight into the consciousness stream in the moments just before the protagonist fucks an ex-girlfriend; and my personal favourite, the incredibly clever headline story ‘The Rental Heart’ which completely enchanted me.
“The problem comes when the hearts get old and scratched: shreds of past loves get caught in the dents, and they’re tricky to rinse out. Even a wire brush won’t do it.”
– The Rental Heart
With beautiful descriptions of anatomical hearts (something usually not that beautiful – let’s be honest) – the writer explores an exciting metaphor: fragile, disposable, temporal hearts – a new heart for every new love and new lover. The hearts discarded and replaced at the end of each love affair. This image had something very appealing about it, if only it was that easy….
And with the light of the love stories came the dark of miscarriage in ‘Feeding’; infidelity in ‘Origami’ and ‘Bibliography’; death in ‘Girl #18’ and ‘the Gracekeeper’; incest in ‘the Broken West’, child prostitution in ‘Momma grows a Diamond’ and conspicuous difference in ‘Una and Coll are not friends’.
What I love about this book was the totally accessible escapism that it provided. Most of the protagonists are nameless and faceless – these fast-paced reads focus on stories, experiences, not characters or surroundings. Whilst being quick and engaging enough to allow you to flick through the book in a couple of hours (max), they are also complex enough to invade your mind and keep you thinking for weeks to come. And you will go back and read again…
P.s. if you’re looking for a happy ending… Witch is a good starting point…