Reviewed by Alisha Churbe
In Lucy Wood’s debut short story collection, Diving Belles, she brings to life the Cornwall coast of England. Although the stories vary from the heather-filled moors to the salty, sandy beach, they all ring true to the rich portrait of the area. The collection is a group of twelve stories, each unique in subject and character. The stories are all set in modern/recent times, none were in a historical setting, although each reached toward lore and mythological elements from the past. The stories are focused more on their expertly described surroundings that will keep you interested, but not so focused on the movement of plot. They are unique and well done, but much different from the traditional story structure.
The stories in the first part of the book seemed flat and ended just as they began, with very light action and conflict. The characters were only slightly defined and when the stories ended, it was difficult to care what did or did not happen to them. In the first and title story, Diving Belles, a woman goes in search of her husband, who was lost at sea. Another story spoke of a ghost – like a visitor who inhabits a couple’s apartment uninvited, but without concern.
At Notes from the House of Spirits, the collection turns and takes the reader on a meandering walk into deep woods. The characters become more vivid, the tension creeps in and the stories become more textured. The story touches memory, loss, and hope. The Wishing Tree introduces a seriously ill mother and daughter coping with the mother’s illness, while another, Wisht, tells a touching father/daughter story about discovery and wonder.
All of the stories in the collection are suspenseful and haunting in places; it was hard to put the book down once the momentum was going. All the stories follow Wood’s unique plotting, but in the latter half, they became more thought provoking and were more layered. The stories in the second half of the book deal with strong themes head on, while the beginning stories seemed to skirt them and just touch the surface of the emotion. It was an emotion polished and presented, but still only on the surface.
Wood’s voice is clear and straight-forward though her description of setting and place is impeccable. Her collection is a great debut and a unique change from the traditional short story. Even though a few of the stories seemed a little shallow, you should pick it up and devote the time. She’ll be an author to watch as she can only grow from here.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Mariner Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.