The Darkness of Wallis Simpson is the second of Rose Tremain’s short story collections that I have read and like those in Evangelista’s Fan, they are as good as I always expect of her writing. I still find the short-story form a little disappointing, but these are all interesting, unusual and thought provoking stories.
I bought this collection on the strength of the title as I know nothing, other than the obvious, about Wallis Simpson. I certainly didn’t know about her final days, when her lawyer assumed power-of-attorney over the bed-ridden Duchess, who was suffering from dementia and had lost her power of speech.
Tremain’s story imagines the confusion in Wallis’s head during those days, when her ‘carer’ demands she try to remember details of her life with the Duke of Windsor - who is a pale and shadowy, figure barely existing in her memory, compared to the more vivid recollections of her previous husbands. It did make me feel a little more sympathetic towards her.
Some of the other stories include:
A redundant East German border guard in 1989, tries to reach Russia by bicycling across Poland.
A jilted man gets his revenge after 30 years
A character in an impressionist painting tries to escape from the domestic scene.
A single woman brings up her niece after her sister dies and her brother-in-law takes refuge in the local asylum
And my favourite: An elderly man attempts to improve the lot of some penguins in a Wildlife Sanctuary (and in particular his sponsored penguin) and at same time come to terms with a childhood tragedy.
As with Evangelista's Fan , a possible theme might be 'unfulfilled hope' - so not a jolly book, but each story says something worth thinking about.
This collection of short stories, published in 1994 is just as good as I expect of her work. Even though I don't enjoy the short-story form (they always finish before I am ready to stop reading) these are some of the best I have read, with intriguing plots, and well rounded characters.
I have been trying to spot an overall theme, and it seems to be mostly 'unfulfilled hope', so a little on the sad side. But each one a little gem.
It's 1684, 17 years after Robert Merivels rise, fall and start to clamber back up again in Restoration. Here he is again, as delightful a character as ever, wonderfully flawed but so human and basically good hearted, looking for a way to entertain himself after his adored daughter goes on an extended visit to friends. Cue a visit to Paris and the court of Louis XIV, where things don't go to plan but Merivel does meet an intellegent and good looking grass widow who makes no secret of her attraction to him. But Merivel has to flee back to England to escape her annoyed husband having acquired a bear on the way...
There is so much that's very good about this book. Rose Tremain's writing is wonderful, her sense of period and scene setting is spot on and her charecterisations are suberb and Merivel himself carries all before him. But, it lacks pace. There's no narrative drive, the plot such as it is ambles along, rather like real life, going off at tangents occasionally but the only real tension is whether the King will commit the ultimate betrayal of his faithful follower Merivel (who is quite realistic enough to know how likely it is). It made the last part of the book rather slow going.
It's still well worth reading though for all the many good things about it.