Book Review: Stone Mattress
Published by Virago
A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire, and a crime committed long ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromalite.
Margaret Atwood is a mistress of modern storytelling. We all know it. And if you don’t know it yet, who are you!? I am a huge fan of her novels – from the MaddAddam trilogy to the iconic The Handmaid’s Tale. But where she almost excels is in the short story. Stone Mattress is a collection of nine stories of (sometimes) interconnecting lives, from an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome to an angry horror writer still being ripped off by his old friends.
These stories are dark and intriguing. They have the typical Atwood sense of humour – black and wry. The characters are warped and troubled and so perfect. The stories interweave and separate, threading the characters together like beads on a string.
This is the perfect book for dark wintry tales – they are all cold. Winter is an ongoing theme throughout – the stark bare winter of the Arctic, to a thick blizzard. The weather becomes its own character, eating in to the story and becoming its own oppressive force. The last time winter was used so successfully in a book was Burial Rites.
There is nothing to fault in these stories. They are a cherry-picked few, and they feel valuable for that. There are precious few pages – you wish they would go on forever, but you value every second with each character, with each story. There’s nothing quite like a brilliantly constructed short story collection to keep you entertained. I have been recommending this book to everyone – especially people who don’t usually read short stories, because there is something about this collection that is perfect for the novice reader.
Please, if you haven’t already picked it up, grab it for your Christmas break and indulge!