“All stories contain a truth if you look hard enough – but it might not be a good truth.”
Books as rewards for achieving tasks (like drafting your entire dissertation, go me!) are the best when they prove totally worth the wait, and A Portable Shelter was. It’s about here I should admit that I never had any form of affinity for the short story until I read A Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, so on top of being thrilled to read more from Kirsty given that she sparked my interest in the shorter tale, I think it’s my favourite (this feels odd to say, given how gorgeous The Gracekeepers was, but yes).
Liska and Ruth await the birth of their first child and, despite promising each other not to tell stories to their unborn child and only telling the plain truth, both do – Ruth when Liska is at work, Liska with Ruth is asleep – passing on lessons they’ve learned in folklore and fable.
From circuses and escape, to witches, dragons and werewolves, it’s far from the fantastical feast it seems, with each rooted in reality: the disillusionment of falling out of love, the overwhelming feeling of loving too much and needing more, the struggle to provide for children in tough times, being the middle child, grief, death and how it lingers.
Each story has a little something about it, so wonderfully written and diverse in its style and subject matter, and set in the scene of being told to an unborn child it just proved really, really enjoyable.
“I didn’t understand that there’s magic everywhere, if you look for it.”
I think that quote sums up everything I’ve ever liked in Kirsty’s writing, and what really stood out here. Describing what would be the most mundane thing is doused in a surprising turn of phrase, topics that would often prove dark and depressing when handled differently are sprinkled with magic and hopefulness.
It’s just a very, very good book. And the illustrations are really nice too.
10th August 2015 | Association for Scottish Literary Studies