Review: Words From a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie
Monday, July 28, 2008
Words From a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie
"Words from a Glass Bubble" by Vanessa Gebbie is a collection of nineteen of her short stories, compiled in a handsome hardback from Salt Publishing. There's no overarching narrative, but although the stories are very different, some themes and images crop up more than once.
Gebbie's talent is to shine a light onto her characters, giving us brief insights into their lives, their hopes, their disappointments, and--most of all--their mistakes, before moving on, leaving us with the hope that the characters too will carry on, make better decisions, have better luck, once the spotlight is removed.
Each story has its own voice, from "Words in a Glass Bubble" itself, where a family tries to come to terms with the loss of their son, to "Smoking Down There", where a child naively recounts her friend's story of how she almost inadvertently saved her baby brother from being disposed of at birth. The fragmentary, butterfly narrative convinces as that of a child. 'But then, if you smoked down there why didn't the hairs catch fire? That's what I wanted to know. But the bucket. Why wash out of a bucket when there were perfectly nice china things?'
Gebbie doesn't shy away from the darker side of life. One story, "Irrigation", goes into great detail--too great detail for this reader--about an enema. In "Dodie's Gift", the central character is left lost and wondering, "...if someone takes something you were going to give them anyway, is that stealing?' Reading this story, it's hard to decide whether to give her a hug or a good shake. Either, you think, might damage her beyond repair.
This story contains an image that recurs--'But there, at the bottom of the hollow, a gull has had a meal, and the sand holds white bone, red bone, skin....' The predator devours, leaves what it doesn't want, and moves on. What's been devoured, abandoned, somehow has to move on, too. Its life now may not be what it envisaged, but it still holds significance.
None of the stories is too long, although it's easy to feel some are too short. The characters live on in our minds and we can't help wondering what will happen next. If they'll come out all right.
This collection is definitely one to savour. Read a story, put it down, think about it, come back--the whole can't be devoured in an afternoon.
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