Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags by Shena Mackay - review by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

Diet of Vodka and Asparagus

Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags

By

William Heinemann 160pp £10.95 order from our bookshop
 

There are eleven pieces in this book, and at least two of them are triumphs; perhaps to ask for any more would be greedy. London, Eastbourne, unnamed suburbs are the territory; the emotional territory is that of wilful, self-conscious eccentricity, and of loneliness – whether in a child, as in All the Pubs in Soho; in an old lady, living out her days in a seaside hotel, in Where the Carpet Ends; or of a writer, marooned in the country, in The Thirty-first of October. In these stories, inanimate objects are pregnant with malice, animals are more perceptive than humans; sometimes worms turn, or the chilly currents of waste and regret are momentarily defied.

Cardboard City is a ruthless, uncomfortable story, with a deceptively cosy subject: Christmas shopping. The shoppers are two sisters, aged twelve and fourteen. They go to Harrod's Food Hall and are 'stupefied in the splendour of death and beauty and money'; in Covent Garden they are harassed by the 'entertainers'

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