Praise for Joan Aiken's stories:
-Wildly inventive, darkly lyrical, and always surprising . . . should be cherished.--- Publishers Weekly
-Darkly whimsical stories. . . . Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, her elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.--- Kirkus Reviews
-Will appeal to readers of short stories and literary fiction.Read more...
Praise for Joan Aiken's stories:
-Wildly inventive, darkly lyrical, and always surprising . . . should be cherished.---Publishers Weekly
-Darkly whimsical stories. . . . Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, her elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.---Kirkus Reviews
-Will appeal to readers of short stories and literary fiction. Highly recommended.---Library Journal
-Aiken's pastoral meadows and circus chaos, gothic grotesques and quirky romances . . . have a dream-like quality executed with a brevity and wit that is a testament to her skill as a story-teller.---California Literary Review
-Fantasy is combined with magic, myth and adventure to form weird, wonderful and immersive tales.---For Book's Sake
Here is the whisper in the night, the dog whose loyalty outlasted death, the creak upstairs, that half-remembered ghost story that won't let you sleep, the sound that raises gooseflesh, the wish you'd checked the lock on the door before dark fell. Here are tales of suspense and the supernatural that will chill, amuse, and exhilarate. Features a new introduction by the late author's daughter, Lizza Aiken.
Best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (1924-2004) wrote over a hundred books and won the Guardian and Edgar Allan Poe awards. After her first husband's death, she supported her family by copyediting at Argosy magazine and an advertising agency before turning to fiction. She went on to write for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Argosy, Women's Own, and many others. Visit her online at joanaiken.com.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-29
- Reviewer: Staff
There’s so much to love about this slender collection of stories by prolific fantasist Aiken (1924–2004), dating from 1955 to 1990 and inexplicably but charmingly arranged in alphabetical order by title. The juxtaposition of mundane and magical—an amateur poet who keeps imposing on his friends even from the afterlife, a puppy’s ghost trapped in an old storage box—feels effortless and fresh. The language is simply splendid, so evocative, as though the stories were actually very dense poems. (“ ‘Did you see anyone?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘The room was too full of music.’ ”) And it brilliantly showcases Aiken’s affectionate, humorous, deft portrayals of female characters. These include a slightly silly but firmly self-defined middle-aged woman, a misanthrope who takes in orphans and her shivering but unbowed fosterling, a sweet elderly lady slipping into dementia and her sniping daughter-in-law, a steely spinster who confronts the devil, half-wild young women in small villages, fairy queens who hide in forests and castles, and many more. With the necessary caveat that Aiken wrote what she knew—white, straight, cisgender women, poor and working-class women—her catalogue of British femaleness is impressively thorough. This is not to say that she neglects to write about men. Indeed, many are shoehorned into stories that don’t especially need them. (Her ghosts and fairies are considerably easier to believe in than her romances.) But they’re all more or less the same: sweet, befuddled, somewhat put-upon, and self-involved. The women are written to be identified with; the men are written to be entertained by. These quick, darting stories are rarely grim. Bad things do happen, but they’re never the focus. The sole exception is the very unsettling “Listening,” in which good people and innocent animals suffer for no reason at all. Aiken refuses to put any kind of neat moral or story arc on these unpleasant events, insisting on troubling the reader. But the other tales are soothing, suffused with un-saccharine sweetness and kind to their characters even while gently poking fun. Aiken’s prose is extraordinary, impossible to do justice to in this small space. Her skill with the language of folk tales—specifically the oral storytelling native to the British Isles—is unparalleled. The first sentence of the collection is “Night, now.” Just those two syllables are enough to draw the reader into Aiken’s hypnotizing verbal rhythms. “A Portable Elephant” bestows a fairy tale ending on characters entranced by the whispering of a forest where all the trees’ leaves are words: “Hush! Just listen!” Probably they are listening still. Between the immediacy of “Night, now” and the eternity of “listening still” lies the entirety of story, and all of it is a playground for Aiken. Perhaps that’s what makes these stories both feel very 20th century and somehow timeless. It’s certainly why, after all these years, Aiken’s readers are listening still.