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by Margo Lanagan

Ten short stories from Margo Lanagan are anthologized here, spanning time and space. Ranging from fantasy to science fiction to horror, each tale is its own little universe, peopled with characters looking for connection, for explanation, for understanding. Whether the story plunges down to the Underworld for a day in the life of a ferryman or peels back the flapping entrance to a circus tent, Lanagan gives readers a peek into a strange world that’s not so different from our own.

I felt that the collection, as a whole, lacked cohesiveness. The only element that I saw recurring was that several stories were based on fairy tales or religious folklore. For example, “Night of the Firstlings” tells the story of the Passover as it might have appeared to one of children of the Israelites, while “The Golden Shroud” gives a rather happier ending to the characters of “Rapunzel”. But not every tale has a literary precedent, so it doesn’t serve as a true unifying element.

This is my first experience with Margo Lanagan. She has a very vague, dreamy style of writing that implies much but explains little. It’s often difficult to pinpoint anything with certainty. In some stories, like “Catastrophic Destruction”, it infuses an old narrative with new magic - but then again, if you aren’t familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinderbox” then I’m not sure the story will make sense, or be strong enough to stand on its own. The tales are often disjointed or jumbled. A Booklist review describes the text as “tricksy prose [that] feels as if it’s been translated into an alien tongue and back again”, and I think that’s a fairly accurate. I was often left wanting more, but not in a good way.

As with all short story anthologies, there are some strong stories that I would eagerly read again and others that I could barely finish. This is worth picking up for Lanagan’s takes on Rapunzel and “Into the Clouds on High”, a touching story about a boy whose mother keeps trying to float away into the sky, but you might want to find the book in a library first to see if the author’s labored tellings will be enjoyable or a chore.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about Yellowcake, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Other Ologies Titles
2011: Fashionista Piranha on hold for a few weeks!
2010: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2009: Photos of beautiful libraries around the world!
2008: Author of Vivaldi’s Virgins hosting webinar on December 16th, 2008


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 14th, 2013 12:48 pm (UTC)
Are we supposed to think about uranium with the "Yellowcake" title? Because I sorta do.... XD
Dec. 14th, 2013 05:09 pm (UTC)
That would actually tie into the stories better than baked goods, so I'm going to go with 'yes' on that one :-p
Dec. 15th, 2013 10:26 am (UTC)

I tend to think that when authors put out short-story collections, they aren't really meant to be seen as being "themed" very often, unless it's just short stories they've written for a series they've done, or something (thinking of authors like Charlaine Harris). It's just something to make it easier for that author's fans and/or a money-grab from the author/publisher, since usually they've been published somewhere else before. IMO, at least.
Dec. 15th, 2013 04:23 pm (UTC)
That makes sense (the money-grab/tying into existing fanbase). The short story collections that I've personally found the most successful tend to have either a unifying frame, like Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, or tend to have some common element in setting or genre or something like that. Philippa Gregory's Bread and Chocolate, as a random example, has nearly every story takes place in modern England and even though some have supernatural elements and others are more domestic and cozy, there's a "wicked glee" that appears in each story that makes the overall story selection seem carefully curated instead of randomly cobbled together.

But then again, one of the reasons I like working in museums is curating objects into nice, orderly exhibits so this may simply be a very odd personal quirk :-p
Dec. 15th, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
Huh, I didn't know Philippa had a short story collection (I don't think I was following your book blog in 2008) or that she wrote short stories at all. Since I really haven't been attracted to her royalty stuff, I might have to give it a go. Thanks for mentioning it.

And I am forever jealous about you working in museums, just saying. *stabs you with non-damaging plastic forks of jealousy* XD
Dec. 15th, 2013 07:51 pm (UTC)
This is the only short story collection of hers I've ever stumbled across - it's pretty different from her Tudor era fiction!

I just wish the museum-working was a permanent thing! Unfortunately, until I get a master's degree I think it's just going to be a string of short-term contracts, which has benefits (seeing a variety of institutions, job doesn't get boring, etc) but no benefits like healthcare coverage.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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