This collection came very highly recommended; I was a huge fan of her work from previously reading her collection ‘Broken Things’ and her fiction novel ‘The Knife Drawer’ both of which I would recommend you popping to the shop and purchasing…along with ‘Fates of the Animals’.
When opening the book and fingering my way through the first few pages, I was astonished by how many short (short) stories were in this collection forty-five yes that’s right….forty-five beautifully crafted short stories in this anthology Published by SALT.
Padrika Tarrant has the ability in almost all of these whimsical tales to whisk us away to a land where animals speak, worlds comes alive, people who aren’t spiritual get a glimpse into this spiritual, magical, wonderland that is deployed so well by Padrika Tarrant.
There are far too many wonderful stories and just literally far to many stories to do an in-depth review of each as I would be here all year as there are so many I would love to talk about but I feel when reading this the joy of this anthology is in the discovery and reading of the stories and letting the text dwell and take root bringing you to their conclusion.
So let me try to unpick the wonderful mind of Padrika Tarrant if that is at all possible.
Where better to start than at the beginning ‘The Music of the Foxes’ was arrestingly tender and somewhat haunting; which is everything I love about short (short) stories. Padrika Tarrant shows a mastery of her considerable talent; by being able to take the reader on the journey, enjoy the ride and be happy with the conclusion in such a small (or short) space of time is no mean feat but like the postman Padrika Tarrant always delivers. ‘When all the world was bald, flat path, the vixen trotted its length like the grin of a god. Her belly was laden with the sharpness of foxes; their queer, cruel love and the waiting souls of all the cubs that she would bear before she died’.
This anthology has a few recurring characters which was interesting to see them pop up every now and then; this next story is one of those, with the recurring character of God. God I hear you shout, well yes, but this is the God brought to life by the uncomfortably strange imagination of Padrika Tarrant. Her use of prose within ‘The Upstart’ makes it one of my favourite stories within this collection. As we watch the master of creation falls asleep after one too many gin and tonics something within his workbasket begins to create / evolve all by itself. ‘But it came back out, this time with a roll of Sellotape and a large gelatinous eye. Somehow, after a long and painful tussle, it managed to attach the eye to itself, and suddenly it could see. It looked and it looked and it looked. And at the low earth, at the feet of God himself, sat the thing that nobody had created: snap-wristed with bone and empty arteries, with raw and brand-new nerves and one squidgy unblinking eye. It Sat for a long time, thinking as best it could.”
‘Piglet’ was a wonderful story that I gorged myself upon. I felt stuffed but not uncomfortable, I was wonderfully full and at peace with the world. This story may well be one of the longest in this collection, spanning over six pages; well five and a half, but it was encroaching on six, so I’m going to say it was six. Anyway, it was wonderful and once again Padrika Tarrant smashes it out of the park. A master of the short short proves like she did with her novel ‘The Knife Drawer’ that she can spin a wonderful longer yarn. ‘Emily had not been a tidy creature, Every evening after prayers I set myself to the task of clearing Emily away from our room. At first I disposed of only the smallest items: I fed her pressed flowers to the oil lamp, and her velvet bookmarks, one by one. I took the scissors from the kitchen and hid them beneath Jacky’s rocker; the housekeeper raged and searched for them for a whole week. Eventually the maid was dismissed for their theft. I cut the edges from Emily’s Lord’s Prayer, inch by inch, and every night I burned them in my little light.’
‘Winter At Home’ will be the last story I delve into. Which in turn will enable you to fully appreciate and be unfamiliar with this diverse collection; when you run out to the bookstore or head online to purchase yourself a copy (SALT WEBSITE HERE) where you can discover your own personal favourites scattered amongst this huge collection of stories, fables and disturbingly arresting short literature. ‘Winter At Home’ is a wonderful story hidden deep within this anthology, but there was something about Tarrant’s use of prose that endeared this particular story to my heart. The story is somewhat reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm; and the style, imagination and unexpected conclusions complement Padrika’s own dark imagination. ‘My breath began to take a form of its own, flagging from my mouth at first, but as the winter increased its gnawing, it would form into crystals that fell to the ground, or into my lap as I sat with my mother. Our conversations evolved into brittle flowers that strewed the carpet and crackled under our feet.”
It’s not very often an anthology comes out with such a tremendous amount of memorable tales. As I mentioned there are forty-five to choose from; and with so many stories in this collection there are bound to be some that fail to captivate the reader of which I found only a few; and these being more a personal taste around the length of the story (one page) than the skill of the writer. But having said this Padrika Tarrant demonstrates time and time again her tremendous skill of being able to deliver meaningful connections in such a short space of time; with many of the tales within ‘Fates of the Animals’ having a lasting effect on the reader.
It’s a wonderful collection from a fabulous visionary writer – and one of the best things is that it can be read in a couple of sittings enjoyed over a lovely cup of coffee, so put up your feet, get the kettle on and relax into the fascinatingly peculiar mind of Padrika Tarrant.
Fates of the Animals was published by Salt Publishing on 6 May 2014.
With thanks to the wonderful folk at Salt Publishing our readers can now enjoy 20% off orders of Fates of the Animals when purchased directly from Salt! Simply enter the exclusive discount code STORGY at checkout to take advantage of this fabulous offer! Ends Christmas Eve 2016.
Stay tuned to STORGY MAGAZINE for even more literary wonders – such as an exclusive interview with Padrika Tarrant and a new and previously unpublished short story written by Padrika especially for all you STORGY readers. Who says we’re not kind ?!
Review by Ross Jeffery