I was delighted to spot Lily King’s Five Tuesdays in Winter on Twitter having enjoyed both Writers & Lovers and Father of the Rain. It’s her first short story collection, comprising ten pieces many of which explore themes of love, relationships and parenthood, some with a darker edge than I remember from her novels.
He would have liked to have a bouncer at the door, a man with a rippled neck who would turn people away or quietly remove them when they revealed too much ignorance
I’ll begin with my favourite, the delightful, gently humorous Five Tuesdays in Winter which sees a socially awkward bookseller harbouring a quiet passion for his only member of staff cheered on by his beloved, much more emotionally intelligent 12-year-old daughter. In When in the Dordogne a man looks back over decades to the summer he was 14, left in the care of two students from very different backgrounds to him and the confidence they gave him to start his life, understanding only as an adult what each meant to the other. Of the darker stories, Timeline sees Lucy fleeing a disastrous affair, moving in with her brother and his girlfriend and finding herself in the midst of another set of fraught relationships wondering if she’ll manage to get it all down on paper, grist to her writer’s mill. Man at the Door, the final story in the collection, is about a writer stretched thin by the tension between her work and caring for her baby, interrupted by a man banging on the door who won’t take no for an answer, brandishing a copy of her work in progress. I thought this one might backfire but it turned into a favourite with its dark humour and satisfying smothering of self-doubt.
Monotony, especially the unfamiliar monotony of being loved, was something she couldn’t seem to get comfortable with
Family break-ups, adolescence, addiction and its consequences, and writing are all explored in King’s collection but her dominant theme is love, in one form or another, and the contradictions that often accompany it. King delivers characteristically astute observations on relationships, particularly between adults and adolescents of which there are several instances, from the soured crush of Creature, which takes a very dark turn, to the suppressed grief of a young girl furious with her mother after the death of her father in North Sea. Many of King’s characters wrestle with parenthood exacerbated by break-ups – South captures this beautifully as a mother tells her children family stories, finding it hard not to take swipes at her husband much to the annoyance of her daughter. A couple of the shorter pieces are a little unsatisfying but it’s an enjoyable collection, written with a pleasing insight and perception. Hoping for a novel next time, though.
Picador: London 9781529086478 240 pages Hardback