My grateful thanks to Huw Francis and the team at Thunderpoint for providing a copy of Gabrielle Barnby’s ‘The House With The Lilac Shutters and Other Stories’ in return for an honest review.
I rarely read short stories as I find them too brief to be fulfilling and rather frustrating. However, Gabrielle Barnby may just have converted me. ‘The House With the Lilac Shutters’ is a wonderful collection. Set in small towns in both France and England, the stories stand in their own right as beautifully observed descriptions of human jealousy, desire, guilt and love, but they also contribute to a completely satisfying whole.
As the stories progress, hints are dropped like pebbles in a pond so that each story ripples into another, revealing a bit more about a character from an earlier story and helping the reader build up an understanding of why characters are as they are. I do think they need to be read in the order in which they are presented to gain the most from their reading.
The image of heat runs through many of the stories, lowering like a thunderstorm about to break and making the reader wonder what lies, memories and truths might be about to be uncovered in a maelstrom of emotion. I almost found the undercurrents in Gabrielle Barnby’s writing sinister, even though there is humour, love and gentleness too. The linguistic style is totally fascinating.
The more I read, and the more descriptions I encountered, the more I was put in mind of one of my all time favourite texts – Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’. There is a lyrical quality to the writing and descriptions make use of all the senses so that they are vivid and engaging; from the taste of Nico’s marzipan fruit to the colour of the lilac shutters themselves, Gabrielle Barnby paints layer upon layer of image. I could really visualise the settings and think the stories would make a fabulous television series.
I usually pass on review copies of books I have read, but I will be keeping ‘The Lilac Shutters and Other Stories’. Although I’ve read them once, I’m sure I’ve missed many elements and nuances and I look forward to returning to them in the future to see what else is there beneath the surface. I can heartily recommend these stories to all readers.