Writing

Review of “A Portable Shelter” by Kirsty Logan

Ardie says, “Yeah, but have you written any reviews on your blog?”

I say, “No, but I can start.”

Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales was as beautiful and strange as it was memorable. I am still often haunted by the image of a woman sucking a lightbulb like a sweet, or a heart being taken out of a chest, hinges wide open, ready to be cleaned and serviced. Her novel The Gracekeepers swallowed me whole, and I read it in a day and a half, sitting on my bed in my pyjamas way into the afternoon. Logan’s imagination is vivid and wild, and her prose is delicate and forceful. So when I read on Twitter that there was to be a new collection of connected short stories, I couldn’t help myself, I had to put up my hand and say, “Yes please, I’d like to read those.” A Portable Shelter offers stories told to an unborn child by its parents. While we don’t meet the two narrator-protagonists Liska and Ruth for very long in the intermissions between stories, the tales they choose to tell reveal their past, their present, and their hopes and fears for their future. I admire the ease with which Logan marries urban environment and everyday life with fairy tales and magic. These elements are sometimes presented in stark contrast to each other, and sometimes they blend together to create an uncanny feeling that the line between what is true and what is made up is more blurry than it may appear. The tangible reality of activities like fishing and leading tourist exhibitions are directly juxtaposed by myths, like selkies and werewolves. Two partners become estranged in a dialogical sequence presented alongside the idea of a changeling. A woman is looking for her lost children and hopes to find a gingerbread house, to soothe the story that is spinning in her head. A Portable Shelter is not just a storybook. It is a subtle examination of why and how we tell stories to ourselves and others, stories that reveal and disguise our truths. It is a book to read all at once, on a train, or slowly, chapter by chapter, out loud. (All the way through the book I had the feeling like the words were pushing themselves into my mouth, begging to be spoken out loud; Logan’s language is exquisite. “leafcrunch – starscent – wetmoss –”.) In an interview with “The Female Gaze”, Logan described The Gracekeepers as being “a short story writer’s novel”, explaining why she wrote chapters from several different characters’ points of view. “Short stories come more naturally to me, so this was a way for me to approach the massive undertaking of a novel while still keeping to my own natural rhythm.” A Portable Shelter feels like it’s in between a novel and a short story. Each story is self-contained, often switching from the perspective of its narrator and becoming a story that narrator had once been told themselves. But all together, with the interludes, the stories become something else entirely, something more than the sum of their parts. They reveal a depth of history and emotion through what’s revealed to the readers and the secrets Ruth and Liska keep from each other. A world of stories, families, regrets, hopes and love. Thank you to Kirsty Logan for kindly sending me a PDF review copy of this book. A Portable Shelter is released on August 10th and will be limited to 1,000 copies, so I strongly suggest you pre-order it from your local bookseller now. You can find out more about the author here: www.kirstylogan.com and on Twitter at @kirstylogan

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