The English Stories: Stories

The English Stories: Stories - Cynthia Flood The end of the first story in Cynthia Flood's collection of interconnected stories goes like this: "Sometimes she took off the lid and put her nose right into the box, to inhale."

Readers only met Amanda Ellis nine pages ago, so you might think that it doesn't really matter what she smells. And, the fact is that it likely doesn't, not to many readers: indeed, those who prefer their fiction plot-soaked would be best to look elsewhere.

But those readers who enjoy the interwar fiction of presses like Persephone and Virago, those who enjoy the short fiction of Alice Munro or Carol Shields, Rachel Wyatt or M.A.C. Farrant, those who appreciate a focus on the relational and the psychological, you'll be pleased. And even more pleased if you were raised on English stories as a young reader.

Amanda has read a lot of English stories and they inform her experience of England in a quietly amusing way. For instance, she expects Martha, the maid, to be like the maid in The Secret Garden (but that's not the case).

Having been born and raised in Canada, in the Colonies, she hadn't been expecting things in England, in the mother country, to be so different; she gets her words wrong and her schoolmates tease her about that and other innocuous but incongruent details (like the style of her dressing gown).

[Yes, she's at boarding school, which I would have assumed myself, thanks to years of Enid Blyton school school stories in my own younger reading years.]

Amanda's stories are fundamentally satisfying, individually and as a collection. To borrow an image from an early story, The English Stories begins when Amanda is little more than a "chicken that couldn't peck its way out of its egg", but the experiences contained in these twelve stories (although not all are rooted directly in Amanda's perspective) take her through the membrane and into the world.

I'm so glad that I finally read Cynthia Flood's work: I definitely want to read more. (Longer review can be viewed here.)