2014, 212 p.
When I was little, my mother gave me her copy of ‘Children’s Treasure House”, printed in 1935. It was a huge book- some 700 odd pages, with stories from a range of mainly British authors, and a sprinkling of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. It had beautiful art deco illustrations, including colour plates. Few of the stories were rewritten for younger readers, and the fairy stories were left with their darkness and thinly veiled menace. There were plenty of absent mothers, bad mothers and step mothers, but the good mother was always absent. It seems that the story can only begin once the Good Mother gets out of the way.
In her prologue to her collection of long short stories Mothers Grimm, Danielle Wood reminds us that the archetype of the Good Mother still surrounds us, in advertising, in magazines and in impossibly well-groomed women in your playgroup. Written in the second person, she invites the reader into an identification with a less glowing model, the not-very-good, ambivalent, rather resentful mother instead. She does this through four lengthy short stories, each titled with a single word, that have at their base the sort of archetypes that emerge in the tales of the Brothers Grimm. I can sense the presence of those archetypes (e.g. Hansel and Gretel in ‘Cottage’), but I must confess that I’m struggling to put my finger on the exact story or character for some of the others.
The four stories are all set in the present day, with women as the main characters and men playing only bit parts. The women here are sisters and mothers, and they are flawed. Some are exhausted, others guilt-riven, some manipulative, others cruel. The stories are long enough to really develop the characters and draw you into identification – not necessarily sympathy- with them. At about 40-50 pages in length, they are just the right length for me as a reader: able to be read in one sitting, and meaty enough that you don’t’ want to turn to the next one, but just let it sit instead. They are Australian stories without going all ‘Henry Lawson’ on the reader; they are urban and current and thoroughly relatable.
But looking at the publisher’s blurb on the front cover (which to be fair, the author has limited control over), I found myself wondering if I had read the same stories. “Wickedly dark, astonishingly funny, happy endings not guaranteed” it reads. Dark, certainly but I found too much truth in them to be funny, and there are certainly no happy endings here, just realistic, stuck-with-it ones. As life is.
My rating: 9/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.
Sue at Whispering Gums enjoyed it, and did a much better job than I in identifying the source stories!
I have included this on the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2018 database.