Monday, February 20, 2006

The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

I picked this book up from the library firstly because I thought it was a novel and not a collection of short stories, and secondly because I really did not like the only book by this author that I have previously tried to read and so wanted to see if it was the author or the story that I didn't like! To be honest, I'm still a little undecided on this one!

Before I give a brief synopsis of each of the short stories, I thought I would say something about the one common thread through this book, and to my mind that is unlikeable characters. I am not sure why so much literature sets out with unlikeable characters in order to create interesting stories! I guess that may be a little harsh because there were two likeable main characters but the majority were not all that pleasant.

In The Darkness of Wallis Simpson, Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor is being kept a virtual prisoner in her sumptuous Paris home during the last days of her life. Her sadistic carer is trying to get her to remember something...but what?? She remembers quite clearly her first and second marriages, but for whatever reason she can't remember whoever it is that she is supposed to remember.

In How It Stacks Up, John McCreedy is about to turn 46 years of age, and he is feeling extremely fed up with life, especially within his family group.

The Beauty of the Dawn Shift is about Hector S, a man who was an East German Border Guard. When the Berlin Wall comes down he decides that his place is not in the West, but rather further East so he undertakes a journey to the Soviet Union. In doing so he leaves behind his not only his profession, but also his lover, who also happens to be his sister Ute. Along his journey though he comes to realise how ill prepared he really was.

Inspired by the painting "Holyday" by Tissot, Death of an Advocate is told from the perspective of a lawyer called Albert who starts the story bored with life at a picnic with his wife Berthe. As he lies with his head upon Berthe, he watches a wasp land on the cake (he is very allergic to wasps!), contemplates the ugly tea caddy...and life in general. You can view an image of the painting and read a small part of this story here.

Nativity Story is a spin on the traditional Christmas story. A young couple arrives at a hotel where there is no room, so they have to spend the night in the basement with a man who has lost everything, but soon the woman is in labour and all the hotel guests are bringing gifts. What does Mordy have to offer them?

The Override is set in Paris. Stefan grew up in an expensive building in the 8th Arrondisement, and spent his time hiding on the stairs listening to the beautiful music that came out of one of the apartments. After growing up and marrying, he tragically loses his wife and child in an accident and so returns to the building, but the music is no longer beautiful.

In The Ebony Hand, Mercedes works in a fabric shop where every day she meticulously polishes the ebony hand that is used to showcase gloves. At home, her niece is living with her, after her mother has died, and her father sent to the local asylum home. Everything is changing around her, but Mercedes knows that whatever happens she must have the ebony hand.

In Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Frank Baines was a GI who spent time in London during the war, and now he has returned to see if he can solve one of the mysteries of his life. Why did his love not come to the US with him as they had agreed?

Moth - a flying baby who is attracted to the light? Strange!

The Cherry Orchard, with Rugs features Darren, Daz to his mates who work with him in the carpet showroom. Daz has multiple personalities. In addition to Daz there is Diego and also Daniela. It is Daniela who is on the train from London to Paris and meets up with Ross who is going to Paris to see a production of The Cherry Orchard by Chechov that uses only rugs for scenery.

In The Dead Are Only Sleeping Nell finds out that her father has just died, which forces her to remember the time when her mother died sometime before.

Peerless features Badger Newbold, a man with lots of free time and is looking for something to do. When he receives a letter asking him to send money to help some penguins he does just that, and finds a new purpose in life.

I think that Peerless was my favourite if only because it was charmingly amusing and remarkably positive considering some of the other stories. I actually really liked Loves Me, Loves Me Not until it got to the ending.

Overall, I did find the stories readable, which is something that I struggled with when I tried to read Music and Silence, so perhaps in due course I will give Rose Tremain another go!

Rating 3.5/5


  1. Oh dear. I have Music and Silence in my TBR. Now I'm afraid to try it.

    You write fantastic reviews btw.

  2. Thanks!!

    I really wanted to like Music and Silence, and one day I will try to read it again, but I think it was the language that just made it difficult for me to get into it!