Shoe Fly Baby

first_imgShoe Fly Baby, the 2004 Asham Award short story anthology, is eclectic to say the least. Taking us from a London brothel, to a cancer ward, to a “utopian” state in which Ritalin is added to the water supply, these stories reflect a wide range of human experience. However, I would also argue that they vary in quality. While some of these stories stand out for their emotional intensity, stylistic sophistication or, in two cases, downright strangeness, others are less engaging and even banal. Nevertheless, the wide variety within this collection makes it an enjoyable read. The Asham Award, named for the house in Sussex where Virginia Woolf once lived, aims to encourage new female writers. One of the questions that this anthology left me with, however, is whether or not an anthology containing solely women writers is actually necessary. In addition to revealing their own experience, these authors are also just as deft at revealing the perspective of men. Rachael McGill’s ‘Butter Fish Parrot Fish’ shows us a man carrying his baby daughter into a pub, while Naomi Alderman’s ‘Gravity’ quite successfully narrates a man’s entire life in the span of 14 pages. The most impressive of these efforts to assume a new perspective is undoubtedly the First Prizewinning story by Victoria Briggs. Set in a North London brothel, ‘Shoe Fly Baby’ tells the story of Halim, who stares in awe at a shop window lined with trainers, and that of Debra, the prostitute who dances for him in five-inch heels. Repudiating any preconceptions the reader might have about power relations and victimisation, this story is strong and unsettling. In my opinion, it resonates quite well with Francine Stock’s ‘Antechamber’ in which a cancer patient tells us about her experience with strength, humour, and not the slightest trace of sentimentality. In a sharp contrast to this, Carey Jane Hardy’s ‘Face to Face’ takes on a tone of deep emotion as a woman most slowly come to terms with her loss of eyesight. Selected from over 900 entries, the stories in this collection are of high quality. And the wide range of stories offered by Shoe Fly Baby ensures that every reader is likely to find at least some appealing. While you probably will not like all of the stories in this collection, it undoubtedly a great way to spend an afternoon. Bloomsbury, Paperback, £6.99ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2004last_img

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