(CLASSIC: from Lady into Fox, Hesperus Press)
My favourite story of all time is Hans Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’, but I am also passionate about David Garnett’s 1922 long story or very short novel Lady into Fox, an astonishing, moving story of how a newly married woman slowly but inevitably turns into a vixen, and how her husband grieves, and copes, and does not cope: a parable about freedom, and love of difference, and our repressed animal selves. I love this story so much I once wrote an alternative ending for it – because I accept, but cannot bear, the coda, which may be truthful, sustains more than one interpretation, but still feels like a return to patriarchy. A gripping, savage, tender story about the power of women and the power of the wild.
(MODERN: from Under the Dam, Comma Press).
That great theme of the life of modern humans, how we relate to non-human animals, is also at the heart of my modern short story choice, David Constantine’s ‘The Necessary Strength’, from Under the Dam. In all his work Constantine makes us feel the smallness of his human characters, struggling or dancing across enormous spaces, falling through layers of time, earth-bound ants illuminated by brilliant sunsets or icy stars, always about to fall off the edge. Yet he is also writing about the tender minutiae of marriage, fear and illness: about aging, and being trapped, and the glorious animal energy of seals and horses; and in this particular story, compassion, complete and unjudgemental, from an unexpected quarter tilts a tragedy into something that lifts the heart and steels our courage. Trying to choose my favourite modern story, I was actually torn between recent tales I have greatly admired by two brilliant writers, Vanessa Gebbie and A J Ashworth, but at the last moment David Constantine’s white horse swept in and carried me away.
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