Interestingly, out of this pile of Christmas books, I still have three left to read (“The Twelve Birds of Christmas” was given to Matthew and I haven’t read that, either …). So that’s not great for someone who wanted to finish 2019 acquisitions by the end of 2020. Anyway, I decided last week to treat myself to reading “The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories” which Ali kindly gave me for Christmas and has read and reviewed herself here. And as she mentions in her review, some of the stories had been printed in the lovely Biannually newsletter, but all fitted well together in the collection and most could certainly stand a re-read or two.

“The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories”

(25 December 2019 – from Ali)

I will admit that I would have liked some editorial comments about how the selections were made here, or how the stories were found, but we plunge straight in and continue in date order, from Victorian Evelyn Sharp to the more modern Rosamund Pilcher (both excellent stories). I particularly liked those in which downtrodden women flourished or surprised, although Pilcher’s piece about a man getting used to his new stepdaughters was very affecting.

As always, you’re not going to adore all the stories. It’s an impressive collection and we have some playing with the form and one decidedly odd one about sibling rivalry. The war stories of course are challenging to the fainter-hearted and I will admit to not doing very well with the Rose Macaulay, but I surprised myself by becoming immersed in Irene Nemirovksy’s  tale of a wealthy man’s privileged falling away as he flees the incoming invaders through France. There were some old favourites (Dorothy Whipple twice – and both very good, of course, and a Katherine Mansfield I thoroughly enjoyed even though I must have read it before) and some new names to me, too. The opener, Evelyn Sharp’s “In Dull Brown” had a delightfully combative heroine who tells the flirty man on the bus exactly what’s what:

You should keep to the women who don’t work; they will always look pretty and smile sweetly and behave in a domesticated manner. (p. 7)

but in this bittersweet story we find the prophecy might be self-fulfilling when he encounters another woman. I loved Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s “The Bedquilt” with a ‘spare’ woman in the family rising from drudgery to celebration of her crafting talent; but she’s only able to express herself through her needlework. “Safety Zone” by Dorothy van Doren, with its man fleeing from the Nazis to New York was both devastating and hopeful, and so finely crafted, and the relationship between a very English spinster and a German POW in Elizabeth Berridge’s “The Prisoner” is also finely crafted in a deeper-woven way and brings up issues of who exactly is the prisoner.

Moving to the more modern works, Kathleen Warren’s “To Open a Door” was a perfect story of the successful film star sister returning to visit her dowdier married sibling, and Dorothy Whipple’s “Sunday Morning” is both delightful and workmanlike, in a good way. For Good” by Alice Adams with its careful observation of a young girl’s own observation of her elders

Nell smiles politely. She is the sort of child to whom adults often talk, perhaps in some (erroneous) belief that innocence prevents her understanding. She is by now used to nearly incomprehensible remarks that later make considerable sense … (p. 355)

made me want to explore more by this author.

A big and satisfying collection that will have something for everyone who likes a Persephone, or a short story in general! I loved the fact it has two bookmarks, one for each different endpaper.