– Reviewed by Cherry Potts –
This is the slenderest of slender collections, only eleven stories, although one of those is in three parts so you could argue for there being thirteen.
They are all flash, and I read the entire thing in well under an hour.
These are small stories in every sense of the word. A trip to the dentist, a visit from the pest controller, a contretemps over a buffet, a mistakenly placed estate agent’s sign, a heap of smouldering rubbish, a false compliment; and then, not at all small, such as learning to live on your own after a bereavement, stories about whether you can trust the people you let into your house, or mouth. Mostly I found myself recognising the situations and the anxieties, and Emma Kittle-Pey has a way of keeping the story simple which is very effective, and just stepping sideways occasionally to show you what she can do if she feels like it.
The title story is about dementia and the kindness of lies, and works remarkably well (and generally I hate dementia stories) and has as many layers going on as the layers of paint the narrator uses to create something special for her mother.
In ‘Last of the Day’, distrust and discomfort and brought together in the dentist’s chair.
She closes her eyes. She is inside her mouth.
Prodding. Poking. She knows exactly where it is now. Top right. Is that a ‘careful’ the nurse says quietly?
There is an overarching thread of distrust and lies through all these stories that I enjoyed immensely, but there is also a seam of humour that wants to be broad and doesn’t make it, that I don’t care for at all, it surfaces most noticeably in ‘The Charity Shop Wars’ (I’m almost convinced I’ve read this somewhere else, but there is no reference to previous publications so perhaps I haven’t) and ‘The Animal Team’, and in the three part ‘Unlikely Deposits’. It’s a shame, particularly in this last – the first section works like a dream, and made me laugh, but then it deteriorates into stolen boots and exploding dogs. (Yes really).
My favourite stories were ‘Goodbye to Mary and All That’, ‘The Little Green Lamp’, ‘I like your Necklace’ and ‘A Little Piece of England’.
‘Goodbye to Mary…’ is about a lollipop man, and his insane stand in the face of a fire engine, the incident a metaphor for everything that is wrong in a life that seems to be going fine despite the loss of his wife.
‘A Little Piece of England’ is a small mistress piece of misunderstanding mistrust and self-righteous rage, which, although I knew how it would end, provided phone cameos for an assortment of characters in an entirely believable escalation, which left me feeling ‘quite right too’, rather than groaning at predictability.
‘The Little Green Lamp’ is a seriously silly piece (and inaccurate too in a crucial element of the story) but that doesn’t matter. As someone who apologises to weeds as I pull them up and winces at having to prune a tree, I now have a whole new area to consider and feel guilty about in regard to possible sentience. Thanks.
The stand-out story for me, though, is ‘I like your Necklace’, probably the shortest, in which insincerity is treated as though genuine, and everyone feels greatly better for it, until a lie is repeated, almost verbatim, back to the liar. Most satisfying.