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Monday, 6 October 2014

Book Review: Love Alters ed. Emma Donoghue

Love Alters: Lesbian Stories, previously released as The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories, includes 29 stories split into the categories of 'Child's Play', 'Present Tense', 'Family Values', 'Past Times' and 'Possibilities'. These rough categories allow for some distinction as you go through the book but, really, the stories are generally wildly different to each other. It draws together authors from across the world with some brilliant stories, both heartbreaking and humorous, which analyse the finer points of life. The overarching banner may be 'lesbian short stories' but there's far more to this collection than that.

There are two stories that stick in my mind. The first, 'Self-Deliverance' by Elise D'Haene, is a checklist compiled by a dying man, Teddy, and his two friends, Alf and Ginnie. Meandering back and forth, D'Haene creates a story that's both rooted in the immediate problem yet tells you all you need to know about the characters. The second story, 'Did'ja Ever Hear of a Goolieguy?' by Anne Cameron follows a woman fleeing from her suffocating life with her partner who travels back home. Part myth, part reality, this one really struck me for reasons I can't define. Perhaps it was only that everything the narrator experiences is a thought-provoking metaphor for something else.

The 'Past Times' section throws up some interesting work. 'The Catherine Trilogy' by Ingrid MacDonald, the longest piece in the book, follows the life of a woman who passes her life as a man in 18th century Europe. I was hooked by the first part, endured the second and enjoyed the third, though I see the need for all of them. Also in this section was 'The Burning Times' by Sara Maitland, a potent tale of jealousy in the time of witchcraft trials, Emma Donoghue's 'The Tale of the Kiss' which tells of another 'witch' in a cave and the captivating 'The Woman Who Loved the Moon', a story that defies simple analysis.

Of course, there were stories in this collection that didn't take my fancy as much but I found something in most of them to appreciate. For example, Madelyn Arnold's 'See You in the Movies', about a woman going on a trip with her new partner and kids, made me laugh out loud while Dorothy Allison's 'River of Names' is a haunting look at the tragedies around one woman which she tries to share with her partner. Finally, one of the early stories 'Pamelump' is similarly thought-provoking, as it examines a girl and her disabled friend, utilising the simplicity of children to analyse very adult notions.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this collection. I don't think anybody would love all of these eclectic stories but that just means there's something in it for everyone.

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