My grateful thanks to Rosie Johns at Seren Books for a copy of Ritual 1969 by Jo Mazelis in return for an honest review. Ritual 1969 is available in paperback from Seren, Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and from all good bookshops.
What are little girls made of? What will they become? Will they run away to the circus or become dressmakers, teachers or servants? From the playground to adulthood the path is beset with misunderstandings, missed dates and hidden traps for the unwary.
This darkly gothic collection of stories explores the unsettling borderland between reality and the supernatural. Ranging from early twentieth-century France to 1960s South Wales and contemporary Europe, Jo Mazelis’ singular vision and poetic language creates characters caught up in events and feelings they do not fully understand or control, giving the book its uncanny focus. Not all is as it seems in a world where first impressions may only conceal disguises and false trails – and there’s no going back.
A thrilling third collection from the author of Jerwood Award winning novel Significance.
My Review of Ritual 1969
Goodness what a collection. I’m only just getting in to reading short stories, but had I discovered Jo Mazelis before I’d have been an avid fan. I thought Ritual 1969 was outstanding and am only sorry it has been sitting on my TBR so long.
Ritual 1969 is a sophisticated, intelligent and beautifully written collection of narratives with women at the centre. I found many of the stories quite disturbing in a way. Initially they may seem quite innocuous, but they twist and shift so that there is an underlying malevolence in many that gave me a shudder down my spine. There are references to nightmares and I found a nightmarish quality to much of the writing, especially in A Bird Becomes A Stone.
Several emotions are portrayed in writing that is almost suffocating at times. Fear, loneliness and longing are there, but so too are burgeoning sexuality and sensuality. There’s a real sense of exploring who we are, as opposed to who we want to be or how others perceive us. I thought long and hard about the title – and there are three stories overtly linked to 1969, and came to the conclusion that this is an era of change and development nationally and internationally and Jo Mazelis portrays that flux for the self so effectively. Similarly, many of the behaviours are ritualistic so that characters wish they could behave differently but are constrained by their circumstances and the actions of others. Some, however, manage to break free in an almost supernatural way adding even more interest to the read.
There’s a distinct Welshness to the writing and many of the settings that I recognised from my visits there. Alongside the incisive prose and frequently malign atmosphere there is also real beauty in the descriptions of nature and the appeal to the senses. I found the sense of smell in Prayer 1969, for example, almost unbearable with its ‘unmistakable smells which came from the effluvia of young bodies’.
I also appreciated the way Ritual 1969 embodied so much of our cultural history too and I feel I need to read these stories several times over to appreciate fully all the nuances. There’s reference both overtly and subtly to literature, music, film and theatre so that partly remembered experiences rippled and echoed in my mind like half glimpsed dreams. I loved that effect of the writing.
I’ve read all the collection in Ritual 1969 once. It’s not enough fully to appreciate what a magnificent collection it is. I shall be returning to it for years to come. Wonderful.
About Jo Mazelis
Jo Mazelis is the author of short stories, non-fiction and poetry. Her collection of stories, Diving Girls (Parthian, 2002), was short-listed for the Commonwealth ‘Best First Book’ and Wales Book of the Year. Her second book, Circle Games (Parthian, 2005), was long-listed for Wales Book of the Year. Her stories and poetry have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in various anthologies and magazines, and translated into Danish. Her novel Significance (Seren, 2014) was the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winner.
Born and educated in Swansea Jo returned to her home town in 1991 after working in London for many years. During the 1980s she worked as a graphic designer, photographer and illustrator for the magazines City Limits,Women’s Review, Spare Rib, Undercurrents, Everywoman and New Dance.