The Atmospheric Railway: New and Selected Stories by Shena Mackay - review by Miranda France

Miranda France

Flower Powers

The Atmospheric Railway: New and Selected Stories


Jonathan Cape 423pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Like Morrissey and the May Queen, Shena Mackay strews flowers wherever she goes. In these stories they run riot in neglected gardens and wilt on kitchen window sills. They wait to be painted by aspiring artists and tempt covetous neighbours. A woman looks down from her high-rise apartment at a rare bush of white holly and yearns for one sprig of it at Christmas. Another wishes she could spend all day smoking and reading detective novels in the garden. Honesty (the hardy perennial) appears in more than one flowerbed, but is hardly perennial among the human inhabitants of these stories, especially not the men.

Mackay’s characters also manifest themselves as rare plants. A dustman in a sleeveless vest has armpit hair flowering ‘like the sooty stamens of an anemone against his white flesh’. The author’s interest in flowers is the legacy of a childhood partly spent in Shoreham, where her mother made her learn

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