The short story is a demanding genre – any example needs to be flawless to deliver satisfaction in so few pages. And producing a collection is equally tough – put too many slight tales together and the whole volume seem tarnished. It is not a form to be taken lightly.
Patricia Duncker's fiercely intelligent, witty fiction suggests that she is not a woman to take anything lightly. Seven Tales of Sex and Death opens with a rather alarming note explaining her purpose. 'These tales are night-pieces ... written to disturb and provoke', she reveals. 'I refused to toe the line of political correctness, middle-class morality and good taste.' Not wasting any time, she starts the offensive with 'Stalker', a rape fantasy, which owes somethng to the Jill Dando case and something to classical mythology. This is followed up by 'Sophia Walters Shaw', an equally unpleasant, dystopian tale in which women are literally divided into wives and whores. At least we were warned.
The trouble with setting out to shock, however, is that it very rarely works. Duncker's apocalyptic stories had me checking my doors were locked at night, much as the late-night horror films she acknowledges in her introduction might. But the Grand Guignol to which she aspires isn't exactly subversive. It