My father’s house was a strange place once partially deserted; yawn of space, hand held insufficiently over the mouth ….”
Never judge a book by its cover – a cliche that every bookworm has ignored at some point. I did with Salt Slow – first I was drawn to it for the beautiful cover, then the title (the idea of reading some sea themed books had been floating around in my head for a little while) and then I found out it was a collection of short stories and I was sold.
The sea is woven into many of these tales – the story from which the collection takes its title charts the fate of a couple who have been forced to live at sea following flooding which has wiped out whole landmasses. The flood begins with relentless salt rain. Then there is the girl band who you have to believe are harpies – bewitching teenage girls and causing mass hysteria.
It’s hard to pick out any real favourites from Salt Slow, all the stories were fantastic. The Great Awake, a tale of what happens when “sleeps” abandon their human hosts and become ghostly stalkers causing widespread insomnia, is a standout. Formerly Feral plays with fairytale tropes to great effect, whilst Granite will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading. And opener Mantis gives you a real feel for what the collection has in store.
You soon start to wait for the twist that will come at the end of the stories, and at that moment Amrfield changes her tack and you are left marvelling, questioning at what the next story will bring you.
The whole collection is both surreal and recognisable, fantastical but believable, otherworldly and yet universal. Armsfield delivers this juxtaposition with a lyrical style which reminds you why short stories make for such brilliant literature.
It is not hyperbole to say that this is the best collection of short stories I have read in a long time, possibly ever. The only disappointment for me was that there weren’t enough stories and now I feel somewhat bereft and desperate for Armfield to write more. I found myself seeking out new short stories and digging out much loved collections from my own accumulation of books to soften my bookish grieving.
Salt Slow captures what is so wonderful about short stories. They are flashes of wonder; a good short story will envelop you in a fictional world, depositing you in the centre of a story, giving you a novel’s worth of tale in just a few pages. A good short story allows you to get your fix of fiction often in less than an hour. It is a fine art to create whole characters, worlds and stories in so few words. I do wonder why short stories aren’t more popular with modern readers. How many times do you hear the refrain “I just don’t have the time to read.” Almost everyone has the time for tales like those told by Armfield (think of the time you spend trawling Instagram or Twitter in a day – imagine using some of that time to read something beautiful, troubling or emotive).
Apparently our attention spans are growing shorter as a result of our addiction to social media, a millennial “must have it now mindset” and streaming services allowing us to binge whole TV series in an afternoon. Do short stories fit into this? Should there be a renaissance in the short story? Is it already happening and I have somehow missed it?
Below is a link to a recent Independent article on 2019’s best short story collections if you’re interested. I am planning to work my way through a few of them.
Do you read a lot of short stories? Who are you favourite authors and which collections are your favourites?