Short stories are never safe spaces. The form puts the reader at risk. There are no back stories, and no gentle, unfolding explanations and descriptions, which are the novel’s comfort zones. Good short stories should always feel like shock encounters, whatever the outcome. The reader is assaulted by the mood of the narrator; the voice appears from nowhere, beguiling, haranguing, accusing, weeping or melancholy, and the reader has no subplot in which to hide. In Michèle Roberts’s new collection, which contains more powerful, uncompromising writing than you will find in most novels, women’s sexual consciousness and a radical perception of sexual difference hold centre stage.
These tales inhabit and dramatise the classic territory of Roberts’s work: the drama of sex in all its forms, brutal and tender; the sensual pleasure of clothes, words, art and food; the writer’s identity; her love affair with France; and the process of writing. Roberts’s Catholic iconography is