29. ‘Life’ chosen by Victoria Hislop

I started reading this short story collection on a juddery bus, on the way back from the Hay Festival this year. Obviously I’d been book shopping and I just wanted to read something new, so I tucked into Life on the top deck of a bus as it wove (surprisingly quickly) through tiny country lanes.

life victoria hislop

Life is a collection of stories, all written by women, loosely based around the theme of ‘life’. There are two other books in this series: Love and Loss. This collection includes stories that focus around one event or point in time which deeply affects a character’s life, or that cover the entire span of a life (very deftly) in just a few pages. This book was also a great chance for me to sample female writers I’ve never tried before and see if any of them took my fancy.

Some stories really stood out to me. ‘The Thing in the Forest’ by A.S. Byatt was deliciously creepy, ‘Through the Tunnel’ by Doris Lessing built up the tension consistently until it reached an absolute fever pitch, and ‘A Weight Problem’ started with the lovely idea of a man getting off an overburdened plane and wandering around his home city for a few hours, when he isn’t really meant to be there.

Of course, the surreal ones appealed to me the most. A.M. Homes’ contribution, ‘A Real Doll’, was the delightfully twisted tale of a boy having a lurid sexual relationship with a Barbie doll (and, later on, Ken). I also loved Ali Smith’s ‘The Child’, in which a woman finds a talking baby in her shopping cart and tries to get rid of it because it says disgusting, adult things to her.

This is a fantastic collection of realist and magical realist stories which you can easily dip in and out of when you just fancy reading a really good story. All of these women are absolute masters of their craft, and it’s lovely to spend a few hours in the presence of such greatness.

“If we hadn’t learned to read we might still have been bearing children in ignorance and that, I believe, was the happiest life after all.” ‘A Society’, Virginia Woolf

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

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