Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain (4.5/5)

The back says: Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman for whom Edward VIII abdicated, ended her life as the prisoner of her lawyer who would not allow anyone – friend, foe or journalist – to visit her in her Paris flat. Rose Tremain takes this true story and transforms it into an imaginative and ironic fiction. Her thesis is that Wallis, gaga and bed-ridden, has forgotten the king who gave up an empire for love of her.

The other stories in this magnificent collection range over a variety of themes, equally original and unexpected. An East German border guard, redundant after the Berlin Wall comes down in 1989, imagines that he might still have a purpose in life: he tries to reach Russia by bicycling across the hostile wastes of Poland. A jilted man gets his revenge. A baby grows wings. A character in an Impressionist painting escapes from his ‘frame’ – or does he? And there’s a Christmas story set in a seedy hotel…

I say: I loved these short stories. Well, nearly all of them. I found this at the library the other week, and was intrigued by the story of Wallis Simpson. I wiki’d her after reading this, and have to say that it was a brave move of Tremain to write a fictional story about a real person.

And to do it as well as she did.

Wallis Simpson’s confusion was so palpable and heart wrenching, especially since she couldn’t understand it herself. I couldn’t help but hope that Simpson’s last days weren’t anything like Tremain portrayed.

Most of the stories were just a few pages, and as a person who rarely reads short stories, I really liked the way that Tremain went from offering a glimpse into someone’s world, to telling someone else’s entire life. I really like her style of writing; very concise but with a depth beneath that you simply have to scratch to find.

I’ll definitely pick up more of her work.

Favourite stories: The Darkness of Wallis Simpson, How it Stacks Up, The Ebony Hand, The Cherry Orchard, with Rugs, Peerless

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