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Modern Women's short stories

I thought I would get briefly away from my usual fantasy or ghostly short stories and try something else for a change. These two stories come from The Penguin Book of Modern Women’s Short Stories edited by Susan Hill.

The first story in the collection is The Devastating Boys by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress). I find it interesting to note when stories are written and this one is from 1972. It feels older. The story concerns Laura who is married to Harold. They have two children, Imogen and Lalage, who have grown up and flown the nest. Harold decides, after reading a newspaper article, that they should have two disadvantaged children for a two week holiday and that the two children should be both boys and black. He doesn’t consult Laura as to whether she really wants to do this, regardless of the fact that she is the one who will be looking after them. Thus, being a quiet, nervous sort of a woman, the start of the story finds her at the railway station feeling very apprehensive indeed…

I’m not really sure what the point of making the boys black was in this story. It seemed like it was just done for effect as at no point did their colour make a lot of difference. To be honest, this is a story about a marriage. How some women can feel completely lost when their children leave home and how by doing something like this couple did, the woman and the whole marriage can change, perhaps not dramatically, but enough to make things better for all concerned. Interesting but not rivetting.

The second story, picked at random, was Summer Picnic by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Five pages long, at first glance it seems to be a simple story about a picnic. It’s not at all of course. You soon learn that three generations of women are here, one, Lalage, aged seventeen, exitedly awaiting something that’s going to happen, her mother and grandmother, remembering. That’s all I’m going to say. The story is a gem, short and sweet, but all you need to know is within these five pages.

I shall continue to read this anthology throughout the year. Susan Hill, the editor, is a favourite writer of mine (The Woman in Black etc.) so her choice of short stories is likely to appeal to me personally I feel. One coincidental thing… I’ve never before heard of the Christian name, ‘Lalage’, but there it was in two short stories picked at random. Where on earth did that originate and where did it go? You never hear it now. I feel a Google moment coming on…

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
talekyn
Jan. 28th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
I was wondering if you'd made a typo by having the same unusual first name in both stories, but I see it really was that way -- talk about coincidence! Wow.

The second story does sound more interesting than the first, I'll agree. But I think I'd like to read either one were I to come across them.
caffyolay
Jan. 28th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
I Googled the name but came away not much wiser. 'Lalage' appears to be something to do with Greek goddesses, which is somethimg I know nothing about. She was one maybe. I need to look again. I was just so surprised not to have ever heard the name before.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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