Wednesday, 9 November 2016

"A Portable Shelter" by Kirsty Logan


A Portable Shelter

In their tiny, sea-beaten cottage on the north coast of Scotland, Liska and Ruth await the birth of their first child.

Each passes the time by telling the baby stories, trying to pass on the lessons they’ve learned: tales of circuses and stargazing, selkie fishermen and domestic werewolves, child-eating witches and broken-toothed dragons.

But they must keep their storytelling a secret from one another, as they’ve agreed to only ever tell the plain truth. So to cloak their tales, Ruth tells her stories when Liska is at work, to a background of shrieking seabirds; Liska tells hers when Ruth is asleep, with the lighthouse sweeping its steady beam through the window.


This is an absolutely stunning book. It is a complete gem. It is one to treasure and return to again and again.

"A Portable Shelter" is a collection of short stories linked together by introductions from Liska and Ruth as they take it in turns to speak to their unborn child. It is only 176 pages long, the stories are short and I found the shorter length and brevity of the narratives really effective.

Kirsty Logan's writing is mesmerising, hypnotic and exquisite as well as often brutal. She tackles stories about grief, loss, love, kindness and sadness with a sense of magic and fairytales. The prose is very poetic and at times just like the lull of the sea surrounding the characters.

There is so much about story telling in this very short volume. The opening line sets the premise:

"I'm going to tell you a story. You just stay there, warm and cosy, all cooried in."

But not all stories have happy endings. Not all stories are true and not all stories bring comfort, but this collection seems to show us that stories are a way of learning to deal with truths, nightmares, fears and tragedy. As well as how intrinsic stories are and how much we need stories to survive.

"The dark brings stories, and I want to share one."

"Life is not a fairy tale. It's brighter and darker, longer and briefer, duller and more magical. It's full of contradictions, but one thing it's not neat." 

"People always have to make things into stories so they're easier. So they can tell them to other people, to get sympathy or a laugh, to try and explain themselves. 'I only did this because this happened to me.' But life isn't like that." 

I enjoyed the first story "Cutting Teeth" which is told by Ruth about her parents.

"My father, Caleb, worked on a rib boat on Loch Ness. He took tourists out on trips and spun yarns about the things that lurked in the deep waters and dark woods. Some were true, some were not - but what does it matter? There's no such thing as a true story." 

It's a brave story to start the collection with. Initially there is a lot about the relationship between the parents - "The bed was not so little any more. The space between them felt wide as the loch," - it develops into something far more fantastical. The images of the mother are like something from folklore, or a myth or a fantasy. There's an eclectic mix of tradition, Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected, and the Grimm Brothers. Logan's writing is unusual, quirky and refreshing as she combines all these influences- but then it is also contrasted with stories like "The Perfect Wife" which are given a much more contemporary and realistic feel.

I thought this was highly original and hugely imaginative book. I really enjoyed the writing and the lyricism, the poetics and the description. I loved the images and the narrative voices. If I had to pick a favourite story it would be "Stars, Witch, Bear" which is an interpretation of the tale of Hansel and Gretel where Logan captures some real sadness and poignancy.

"The cruellest things do not hide in the dark. They sit in full view in the sunlight and in the clearings. I had found an ending. But I did not want it." 

I would recommend this slim book of magical storytelling. It's enchanting as well as bold. It's a special book.

"All stories contain a truth if you look hard enough - but it might not be a good truth." 

I bought a copy after reading about it on Twitter. "A Portable Shelter" was published by Vintage on 3rd November 2016.

For more reviews and recommendations, please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

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