Moving to Edinburgh to study Publishing has changed my life. I’ve worked on so many exciting projects and one of those is launching a Literary Society at Edinburgh Napier University. Myself, Kellie Jones (check out her Booktube) and Sarah Barnard (a fellow book blogger) were surprised to discover that there wasn’t already a bookish society at the University so we teamed up to create one. Shameless plug: if you’re in Edinburgh and want to chat about books, you can join the society here. If you’re not, you can still check out our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages for more info.
We’ve been running monthly book clubs and for our January Book Club, we were reading Sweet Home by the talented Carys Bray. It’s a collection of short stories about family and home life. Here’s my review:
I voted to read Sweet Home for our January Book Club purely based on the cover. You might’ve guessed that I’m a sucker for all things pastel and the aesthetic for Sweet Home is very cute. It also sounded intriguing: a collection of short stories “with psychological insight and a lightness of touch frequently found in fairy tales” and an exploration of “loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret.” I mentioned in my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas that I’m a fan of fairytale retellings so Sweet Home captured my interest.
I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book. Magic and nostalgia are tangible in a way that reminds me of Jessie Burton‘s writing. Some of the stories pick away at the small and seemingly insignificant moments in life, like a mother taking her daughter to swimming lessons or a bereaving pensioner whose bra gets caught in the hedge. Carys Bray makes the mundane magical with her elegant prose. Certain phrases would just catch my breath: “tentative, slipper-finding feet.” How can someone make putting slippers on sound so delicate?
Other stories are truly fantastical, like the man who carves a baby out of ice, the supermarket that sells live babies in boxes (complete with a reduced section for the less appealing models) and the old woman living in a gingerbread house, a story which is a clear allegory for immigration in modern Britain. These magical tales have a hint of Angela Carter about them, only less sordid and more quaint. Nothing truly leaves the real world.
As the picture of the perfect dollhouse with a burnt roof on the cover suggests, “the real world” and family life are never as perfect as we would like them to be. In particular, many of the parents in this collection are trying to be the best or, at least, better than their own parents, but are continually failing to win the hearts of their children. There is an ocean of misunderstanding between children and their parents in many of these stories and a sense of I won’t turn out like my parents. These are feelings which I’m sure most readers can relate to from God, mum, you just don’t get it! all the way to Why can’t my child see how hard I’m trying? Why can’t I forgive myself for my imperfections? Nobody seems to be winning Mother of the Year award in Sweet Home but it’s the flaws which make these characters so relatable. I found myself nodding along with their struggles not because I know what it’s like to be a parent (not for a long time) or because I’ve ever carved a baby out of ice but because everyone has their own experiences of family that they can draw from.
It is not just the sadness of a mother at the end of her tether that got to me, genuine heartache pervades many of these stories. Death of children, death of siblings, death of spouses; you name it and Carys Bray bravely tackles it in this collection. There’s a story of a young boy and his sister finding a dead bird in the garden and burying it. Later, we discover that the boy’s sister dies and he goes back to uncover the remains of the bird. We see the pain and trauma of death through the innocent and ignorance of childhood and it’s heartwrenching. I finished this book feeling just a little bit sad but hopeful that despite all the horrible things that happen, there is still magic and lightness in the world.
This is a beautiful collection of short stories that captured my heart and started my 2017 reading list off on a high-note. I can’t tell if Bray makes the monotonous more magical or if the magical becomes more grounded in reality? Either way, it is lovely. I’m definitely going to buy and read more Carys Bray because her writing style is very much up my street. Bonus point: she’s really nice and tweeted the Napier Literary Society on the run up to our book club.
Proof of her niceness: