Comma Press £9.99
IoS book review: Hitting Trees With Sticks, By Jane Rogers
No defeat and no surrender
One of the most unjustly underrated writers around, Jane Rogers is the author of the Orange Prize-longlisted novel Island, the Man Booker-longlisted The Testament of Jessie Lamb (which won the Arthur C Clarke Award), and the novel and subsequent BBC2 adaptation of Mr Wroe's Virgins (remember that?), along with five other novels and TV and radio dramas. This is her first collection of short stories, and it is beautiful.
In "Saved", a young woman battles her drink-sozzled mother, a trailer-full of rotting apples and her own melancholy to try to move her dead grandmother's old bed. In "Conception", a mother remembers conceiving a child in a run-down holiday cottage, as she and the child, now grown-up, slice beans.
"My Mother and Her Sister" sees another grown-up daughter's grief shift focus as she perceives her aging aunt as a woman, much like herself. In "Where Are You, Stevie?", one woman hears the tinselly rattle of Christmas muzak every time she tries to go to sleep; another hears a baby's cries. The title story spans an elderly lady's life in nine-and-a-half poignant pages. In many of the stories, mothers and aunts keep their secrets, or are found out.
The stories are set all over the world (Manchester and Uganda appear more than once), but the themes are familiar: ageing, guilt, loss. The "cidery whiff of rotten apples" in "Saved" seeps through the stories with the tang of decay. A "defeated-looking black Labrador" in the guesthouse in "Conception" embodies a sort of giving in, against which many of the stories' human characters still fight.
Rogers has an unnerving talent for swerving at the last minute away from a cliché, and a knack for finding just the right phrase to describe a feeling so vividly that you only just realise how familiar it is: air so cold that it "felt solid as ice cream in my lungs"; whisky that "lit a line like the trace of a sparkler, from my mouth to my belly". While ghosts and death creep through her stories like dry rot through a crumbling house, they often end on an uplifting note of unexpected, dizzy triumph.
Rogers has written a brand new seasonal short story, exclusively for The Independent on Sunday, which will be published in these pages at Christmas. If it's anything like the stories in this collection, it will be a gift.
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Liam Gallagher slams Daft Punk: 'I could have written Get Lucky in an hour'
Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
After 61 films, including The Hangover Part III, Heather Graham admits she still likes to boogie
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.