Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Quiet Afternoon in the Museum of Torture: Catherine Czerkawska

This collection of three stories should win a prize just for the title!  The action of the title story takes place in Italy, where a young couple with a very new baby are on holiday and visiting a small museum in Tuscany.  The mother suddenly becomes aware that the world is a dangerous, frightening place now that she has another, vulnerable, life to care for.  Her relationships with the baby and with her husband - changed forever by maternity - are unfolded with great subtlety and skill.

Breathe is a lovely account of a relationship with an elderly relative and shared memories of a place that is gradually being demolished.

In The Butterfly Bowl, Debbie inherits a Chinese bowl from her great-great-grandfather.  It’s plain and white but, when filled with water, reveals a beautiful secret.  When a man enters Debbie’s life, the bowl becomes the object of contention and the success or destruction of their relationship pivots around the bowl.

The stories in this collection are quiet and beautifully written.  Catherine Czerkawska is an award-winning playwright and accomplished novelist.  I loved her novel The Curiosity Cabinet   and the Polish family saga based partly on her own family history -  The Amber Heart.  Another novel, Bird of Passage,  has also had rave reviews.  The stories in A Quiet Afternoon in the Museum of Torture aren’t ground breaking experimental fiction, just human experiences and relationships portrayed with empathy and considerable style.  If you like contemporary short fiction, by authors such as Polly Sampson (Perfect Lives) or Helen Simpson then you’ll enjoy this book.

Catherine blogs here.

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