Review: ‘Diving Belles’ by Lucy Wood


Blurb from GoodReads:

Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wrecker’s lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea. This luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut collection introduces in Lucy Wood a spectacular new voice in contemporary British fiction.


I do love how this debut collection of short stories by Lucy Wood is inspired by Cornish folkore- especially the sea and mermaids. It has an element of Angela Carter- esque magical realism which I also really like, and some of the descriptions and imagery employed are startlingly good. At times- for instance, in the title story, ‘Diving Belles’, I also enjoyed the contrast between the realism of the characters (Iris) and the fantasy of the situation- e.g. how her husband has turned into a merman. However, I didn’t like the open-endedness of the story- I felt it could have been developed more, and I wanted to see Iris’s interaction with her husband fully-fleshed out, as otherwise she strikes me as a tragic and unfulfilled character. I felt her grief and pain keenly, and felt as though this transferred to the other stories, which all had a very melancholy, bittersweet mood. I would also have liked there to be more obvious references to mermaids/sea creatures, fantasy etc, as I felt as though Wood’s imagination could easily have transported me there. Overall I found this a poignant, melancholy and thought provoking collection, but a teeny bit slow/dull in parts, and for me not all the stories gelled- they were too bizarre, like the one set in a pagan care home- and for me it could have benefited from a sprinkling of more magic.

Overall rating: 3 out of 10
Read if you enjoyed: ‘Sexing the Cherry’ by Jeannette Winterson


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