Book review: The Rental Heart, by Kirsty Logan

 

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The Independent Culture

The eerie, strange tales in Kirsty Logan’s debut short story collection, The Rental Heart, are love stories of a sort. Some are fairy tales reworked with Logan’s own twist of magic realism, and some are her own invention, but they all linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned. A married man binges on words in secret; a spoiled princess finds herself caught in a fairy tale that isn’t hers; a teenage girl enters the woods for a dare and falls in love with Baba Yaga. In luscious, vivid prose, Logan – already a rising star on the Scottish literary scene – brings to mind Angela Carter, or Atwood or Winterson at their best.

Most haunting is “Origami”, in which a lonely woman battles her impulse to work on the lover she is constructing from paper while her husband is away. “Sleeping Beauty” takes a familiar trope in modernised adaptations of the comatose princess but her conflicted narrator makes it feel painfully personal, and the title story dwells on the delusion of moving on from lost love with hearts that can be replaced every time they break. The steampunk theme is repeated in “Coin-Operated Boys”, where love, jealousy and technology collide in fin de siècle Paris, giving Logan the chance to flex her historical fiction muscles in a way that makes you want to spend an entire novel with these characters.

Reality and folklore overlap in a jarring but seductive way as, one by one, Logan’s characters abandon reason and the mundane for folly, desire, and crimes of passion. Even lovers of gritty urban realism will find themselves drawn in, and a seam of pulpy noir runs through “The Last 3,600 Seconds”, a vision of the apocalypse as short as an intake of breath. Logan doesn’t stint on the violence bubbling beneath, either – this is barbed wire enmeshed with Sleeping Beauty’s maze of thorns, our world viewed through the prism of fairy tales.

Logan is an exciting emerging voice, and The Rental Heart is an addictively enjoyable addition to the welcome resurgence of the short story. It displays an unexpectedly dizzying range of styles for a debut effort, putting Logan at the top of the “ones to watch” list. It’s always exciting to see such a bold, fresh new talent, and if Logan carries on in this vein, she’ll become a staple of the awards shortlists. Individually the stories are arresting, but the collection itself is a chance to immerse oneself in Logan’s wild, original imagination that’s impossible to pass up as she illuminates the madness of what we’ll do for love.

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