Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Bel Greenwood’s review of Red Room

Red Room is a book with a wild and windy moor locked inside.  It is a wonderfully eclectic and strongly evocative collection of new short stories inspired by the Brontes. Moor-life, having lived on one, is solid and ephemeral, shape-shifting and violent, enduring and majestic.  The moor and the hardships  and early deaths of those who lived at Haworth and lower down the hill would have laid siege to the imaginations of the Bronte sisters. 

This moor passion is reflected in the anthology which contains a whole weather system of emotions and moods.  Edited by A.J. Ashworth, the collection hosts some marvellous writing from a pantheon of prize-winning writers.  Reading this slim book of 120 pages feels like real travel into a landscape of resonance and echo.  It is exciting and compelling, packed with quiet grief, mischief, delicacy and surprise. It can be quite a game to track the allusions to Bronte-work although some of the stories such as Alison Moore’s satisfying and subversive, Stonecrop, heft the inspirational starting point under the title. Helpfully, the editor has provided a section at the end of the book called Inspirations, where the authors reveal the Bronte nugget that gave rise to their narratives.

Simon Armitage’s  brilliant elegy Emily B, ‘Too much rain in the blood/too much cloud in the lungs.’  acts as the book’s opening marker.  It is followed by some great stories.  Ashton and Elaine by David Constantine is beautifully written and movingly charts a near-mute child subject to adult cruelties in a landscape of ‘hard, ungiving earth,’ but a landscape that cradles a seam of tenderness.  The slow, developing relationship between the lost boy and Elaine is slowly unfolded with compassion and love.

Carys Davies, short and poignant Bonnet, is a masterclass in loneliness, unrequited love and control. It recreates a fictional meeting between Charlotte Bronte and her handsome publisher, George Smith.  Sarah Dobbs, Behind Closed Doors is easily one of the most powerful and memorable short stories I have read this year.  The story of young Henry invisible inside a house of childhood grief after the death of his mother. The darker stories in the collection are offset with comic, playful and tricksy story-telling, whether  Bill Broady’s meeting between Heathcliff and Sherlock Holmes or Zoe King’s Dear Miss, comprised of letters between Emma Woodhouse and Jane Eyre. 

Unthank Books have created a beautifully designed book which is also raising funds for the Bronte Birthplace Trust.  It is a proud, wilful, wonderful read for those who love the Brontes and anyone who appreciates great writing. Buy a copy for a loved one this Xmas!

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