I received an ARC copy of this book and I voluntarily decided to write a review.
I had read some of Wendy Janes’s articles about editing and I was aware of her novel ‘What Jennifer Knows’ although I had not read it. So I came to this book feeling quite curious. I had read some of the reviews, both of the novel and of this book and they were all positive, and after reading it, I can say deservedly so.
The author explains that these “stories” are scenes and background information she had written when preparing her novel, but later they did not seem to fit in with it and she did not include them but thought readers might enjoy them in their own right. Not having read the novel, I can confirm they can be read independently, although I got the feeling that perhaps some of them would be enjoyed more fully by readers who were already familiar with the story, as they would offer further insight into well-loved characters.
They stories are not typical of other short-story collections that I’ve read in the past. Although self-contained, they don’t necessarily tell a ground-breaking story, and have no sting in the tail (we might perceive one, but this is up to the reader, rather than because of an imposed twist in the action). It’s easy to work out as we read that there are connections between the characters, as many of them appear repeatedly in the stories, playing different parts (a bit like in the Seven Ages of Man by Shakespeare), but if something is distinctive about them is that they are beautifully observed. Written in the third person but from different points of view, these are clearly different people with different interests and attitudes, men and women, children and adults, and they vary from the very personal to the professional. If I had to pick up some favourites, without a doubt ‘The Never Ending Day’ (I’ve never had a baby but as a psychiatrist I’ve worked with mothers who became very depressed following the birth of their child and I recognise the themes and the description of her feelings), ‘The Perfect Family’ (where Blythe reminded me of myself, as an only child who always thought that to have a bigger family must be fun) and ‘What Tim Knows’ that is a very successful peep at how an autistic boy sees the world.
I hope to read more of the author’s work and I can recommend these stories if you want to make your own mind up about how you might feel about reading her longer fiction.