Wild and Wonderful: Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter

Posted 21st April 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 4 Comments

Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter
Genres: Fantasy
PoV: 1st Person, Past Tense
Goodreads
five-stars

Welcome to the beautiful magic, restless passion and exquisite horror of Angela Slatter's impeccably imagined tales.

In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other. Love, loss and life are elegantly dissected in Slatter's earthy yet poetic prose.

As Rob Shearman says in his Introduction: 'Sourdough and Other Stories manages to be grand and ambitious and worldbuilding-but also as intimate and focused as all good short fiction should be . . . The joy of Angela Slatter's book is that she's given us a set of fairy tales that are at once both new and fresh, and yet feel as old as storytelling itself.'

Contains: 'Introduction' by Robert Shearman, 'The Shadow Tree', 'Gallowberries', 'Little Radish', 'Dibblespin', 'The Navigator', 'The Angel Wood', 'Ash', 'The Story of Ink', 'Lost Things', 'A Good Husband', 'A Porcelain Soul', 'The Bones Remember Everything', 'Sourdough', 'Sister, Sister', 'Lavender and Lychgates', 'Under the Mountain, 'Afterword' by Jeff VanderMeer.

Highlights

~a ruby for a heart
~wolves guarding a cathedral
~wings
~happy endings not guaranteed
~a mosaic novel

Sourdough is a collection I’ve picked up before and always put down again; I have a weak stomach for certain flavours of nastiness, and the first couple of stories here are ones I struggled with. (No sexual violence or anything like that – but murdered kittens and gallowberries? I – no.)

But this time I pushed through those first few stories, and folx, I’m so freaking delighted that I did! Because Sourdough is every bit as bewitching as everyone has always said it is.

This collection reminds you of the Grimm fairytales while being wholly original; Slatter’s style hearkens to something ancient while being completely new. That newness is partly the fact that her stories are narrated in first person – giving her characters more life, immediately, than the fairytales we’re used to – but mostly it’s something wonderfully strange and eldritch about Slatter’s imagination, the ideas she comes up with, the way she weaves them together, anchoring them in visceral detail even as they’re filled with a wild, ephemeral magic; dolls given a little bit of life with a slice of their maker’s soul; a young woman marrying the angel of the forest; men who’ve lost their wings and just want them back; dresses sewn of water and weed in exchange for wishes; bread loaves that can break an enchantment. Snapshots from each story stay with you; I won’t be forgetting any of these for a long while, and I can easily see myself remembering specific images and moments from this collection forever, even once I’ve forgotten the context.

Slatter’s writing is like that.

I can’t even say that there are stronger and weaker stories here; it would be more accurate to say there were stories I enjoyed more and some I enjoyed less, not so much because some stories are better, but because I always want a happy ending and I flinch from certain kinds of ugliness, and Slatter does not play nice and cater to my tender sensibilities.

I am too soft for her stories, but I love them, so much that I don’t mind if they cut me or leave bruises; they’re worth it.

For a long while, the cat wouldn’t eat, but eventually I coaxed milk into her mouth and loved her into living.

Slatter writes with such elegance and imagination that her stories are entrancing, even when I want to run away from them. They are all exactly the perfect length, no longer or shorter than they need to be; no superfluous description or introspection, every word laser-cut and placed as carefully as a gem in its setting. Take a step back – or pay close attention – and you swiftly realise that the collection itself is a mosaic, that the stories are not each separated things but weave in and out of each other, quietly and subtly and powerfully. Throw-away characters mentioned in passing in one story feature in one of their own later; the main characters of each tale can turn up at the edges of someone else’s later in the book. It’s something I don’t think I’ve seen before, and it’s a game-changer; I read for the beautiful and terrible magic, but the mosaic effect quickly hooked me too, to the point that I was scrutinising every character and scribbling notes on whether or not I’d seen them before, and where, and when. It rapidly became a kind of mini-obsession, a fun and addictive one, trying to spot how each story wove into others before the reveal happened. I approve immensely.

I don’t typically read a lot of short stories, or collections, because so often I’m left wanting more of the stories I enjoy. Slatter manages to write short stories and give me more afterwards without compromising the power of the story in question – although sometimes she makes me regret wanting it! Be careful what you wish for, here.

But genuinely, it gives Sourdough a very different feel than any other collection I’ve come across; like it might almost be a secret novel rather than a series of short stories. I loved the effect, loved how they all felt like pieces of one bigger story, how they came together to build this shared world they’re all set in. Again: outside of Arabian Nights-esque set-ups, it’s not something I’ve seen before, and the execution is very different to the Arabian Nights motif – different, and excellent.

‘I’m not a witch,’ I said.

‘You’re a woman, aren’t you?’

At least in this collection, all the narrators are women, and there’s something to be said about that by people much smarter than me: how they are all women who make choices, even when that choice is to accept the choices of others; how they all have desires and go for the things they want; how none of them apologise for who and what they are. I never got the ‘femininity is inherently magical’ vibe that always makes me uneasy; this is a book about women, yes, but it never felt purposefully or accidentally TERF-y to me. It’s just…a book about a number of very interesting, very different women. And the stories they make, or find themselves in, and what they do with those stories.

Thinner than the soup in an orphanage, thinner than the horizon.

Ultimately, I’m annoyed at myself it took me so long to read Sourdough, and I went ahead and bought the rest of Slatter’s collections the moment I finished it. Even if some stories prick me, this is a world I don’t want to leave yet, and I’ve fallen head-over-heels for Slatter’s imagination and style. I need more of it!

It’s just that simple.

five-stars

4 responses to “Wild and Wonderful: Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter

  1. Ah! I am glad you loved your way through it, and sorry you are bruised. I have a friend who describes a certain author as having left “a bright scar” on his brain. High praise, but also… ow.

    • It was so worth a few bruises! Thank you so much for the rec 😀 I’m already reading Bitterwood Bible and have Tallow Wife waiting on my kindle!

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