The Stories by Jane Gardam - review by Elspeth Barker

Elspeth Barker

What the Parrot Saw

The Stories


Little, Brown 480pp £20

Thirty years of stories, dating back to 1977, cram this splendid volume. In her introduction Jane Gardam recalls her infant recognition of the joy of listening without looking, as her mother read to her while they sat by her bedroom window, a moment put into relief by the presence of a deathly, blackish and freckled parrot behind the curtain. Now, some eighty years later, she is able to say that the parrot is vanquished, while the joy comes and goes. The extreme oddity of this juxtaposition is characteristic of her writing, the gently familiar and the shocking intertwined.

Many of these stories examine people’s wilful failure to understand each other; mothers thwart daughters, daughters take their revenge. Love goes unrecognised or is rendered irrelevant, lost in the struggle to find ways of enduring or escaping the prescriptions of English middle-class life.

Happiness, of course, is fleeting, perhaps recognised only

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