Superb storytelling ability

2012-11-14 00:00


A Cat, a Hat, and a Piece of String

Joanne Harris



READING a book of short stories is a little like dipping into a box of chocolates. As Forrest Gump says: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Being something of a fan of Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and more recently, Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, however, I was sure that great storytelling wouldn’t be sacrificed in this shorter literary style. I was right.

Harris offers readers a range of genres. For those who enjoy the supernatural and ghostly, she presents Would you like to Reconnect?, about a mother’s desperate need to stay connected to the Twitterverse and her son’s profile, following his death; and Dee Eye Why, which tells the story of a former West End star who becomes obsessed with renovating a crumbling mansion.

There are also fantasy stories, which fans of Harris’ Runemarks will enjoy. In Rainy Days and Mondays and Wildfire in Manhattan, gods are walking among ordinary New Yorkers and the results of their actions play havoc with the weather.

Among my personal favourites were Dryad, which Harris herself describes as “the only inter-species, non-mammalian love story ever written”. I loved its story of a woman in love with a tree, a copper beech, in her garden, and its message that human beings are always too busy to make time for nature and simple pleasures.

I also enjoyed the stories of two elderly women, Faith and Hope, who live in the Meadowbank Home, but refuse to conform to the dictates of the powers that be. Even when they are punished for breaking the rules they’re able — with the help of Chris, the handyman-carer — to escape the confines of the home using their imaginations in Faith and Hope Fly South and Faith and Hope Get Even.

The other story that will remain with me a long time is Road Song, which deals with the tragedy of child trafficking, and yet leaves you cheering and rooting for its heroine, Maleki. As she so eloquently says: “The real power lies in the human heart; its courage; its resilience.”

A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String offers readers a wonderful showcase for Harris’s storytelling ability and, thanks to little introductions at the start of each one, you get an idea of what sparked the idea for each story. A great summer read.


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