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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton


I have previously enjoyed reading Rosy Thornton’s novels, so I was really pleased when she offered to send me a copy of her new volume of short stories.

Sandlands is a delightful collection and, like all the best short story collections, it has unifying themes running through it.

The most obvious is the setting – the stories highlight various locations around Suffolk. But it is the way that the setting is used in the stories, and the collection as a whole, that really brings them to life.

One of the most striking motifs running through is the feel of the land itself. The hardness of  the ground after a frost, the dragging sogginess of mud underfoot when the fields are water logged. The stories are effective in making the reader feel in a very visceral way the connection the characters have to the place where they live.

As well as the significance of place, the threads of the stories reach out to each other across generations and across time. The importance of family and heritage underlines the themes of birth, death, life and the fragility of existence.

I like the way Rosy Thornton has played around with different forms of storytelling within the stories. In one we have a narrative told through a series of love letters, in another the use of photographs and video is central to the tale. These techniques give an extra layer of meaning and interest to the collection.

Each story contains little jewels in its own right as well as forming part of a cohesive collection. The ailing fox gently coaxed back to life, the owl watching over a cache of letters, the pub piano, the bells in a church tower, the rare plant blooming in an unexpected place.

What makes this collection stand out for me is the quality of the writing. It is full of emotion and sensitivity and gives the stories a sense of delicate poise that make them a joy to read. The characters, the places and the episodes are all exquisitely drawn and leave a sense of having really stepped into someone’s life for a brief moment.

If I had to choose favourites, they would probably be these two.

The Level Crossing - a woman comes to terms with tragic events from her family's past and contemplates her own future as she runs by a railway line.

Mad Maudlin - video images of a pub, a piano, and photographs. And something going on that is far more than meets the eye.

I suspect that this is a collection that different readers will all take something different away from. And that is how it should be.

I recommend this book to all lovers of short stories, and also to those who might be new to reading the form.

Thanks very much to the author for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

And you can find my reviews of some of Rosy’s other books here

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