RSPCA- baiting short stories
released OUT NOW! 311 pages | Paperback
Author Valerie Martin
Publisher Serpent’s Tail
There’s no denying that Orange Prize- winning author Valerie Martin can write beautifully: her prose is lyrical yet functional, compelling and evocative, and her characters feel real ( which is uncomfortable, given that so many are bastards). But despite all the acclaim she’s had, you’re left wondering something rather vital after reading this collection of 12 short stories: was there a point to them?
Many seem to sputter out and die without a punchline; some are snapshots of lives that aren’t particularly interesting; others focus on characters so reprehensible you get no pleasure from reading their thoughts.
Thankfully there’s joy to be found elsewhere. The book is split into three sections: the first focusing on humans doing horrible things to animals, the second about artists and the third – the ones of relevance to this magazine – about animal/ human hybrids. Naturally, the opening stories are repugnant, and because Martin writes with such poise and honesty, they’re often deeply unsettling. The second round of stories are fascinating insights into the minds of creative types, with “The Unfinished Novel” the collection’s highlight ( would you be caretaker of a book written by someone you hated who’s far better an author than you, thus eclipsing your own fame? Tricky...).
The final stories, which feature a psychotic mermaid, were-creatures and the rather lovely centaur of “Et In Arcadia Ego”, are fascinating, assuming they don’t end just as you’re starting to really care about them. Perhaps Sea Lovers’ flaw, then, isn’t the subject matter itself, but the format: Martin’s work isn’t best served in small doses, but in larger, more expansive chunks. Although reading an entire novel about a cat starving to death might not be that nice, either... Jayne Nelson
Martin’s 1990 novel Mary Reilly, which told the story of Dr Jekyll from a servant’s POV, was turned into a 1996 movie.
Many stories seem to sputter out and die