‘Bold, glamorous, sexy, unrepentant,’ promises the jacket. The heroines of Fay Weldon’s short stories ‘offer a quite unique view of the world as they face their trials without fear or trepidation’. It’s not the done thing to start a review by quoting the blurb, but this one unwittingly helps to establish why these stories ought to be good, and why, on the whole, they are not.
Most stick to the ‘twist in the tail’ formula bequeathed to short-story writers by Saki and too rarely discarded since. A faked Early Christian cross works healing miracles, a dowdy book illustrator turns the tables on a smooth-talking con-man, a china-smashing poltergeist shows a displaced Jewish girl the way back to her roots. Whatever expectations are raised, you can guarantee they’ll be overturned. Sometimes this is subtly achieved, as in the beautifully balanced ‘Wild Strawberries’ where a cat’s pregnancy nudges sophisticated Elaine into recognising that she has been living a smart, glittering, urban lie. But as you forge on through the collection the pattern becomes wearisome. There doesn’t seem to be much point in stepping on the rug if you know it’s going to be pulled out from under your feet.
The narrators are female. To return to the blurb – yes, most are bold, or are emboldened by the course of events. Some are glamorous – there are lots of models and other beauties. Not one is sexy. Sex is a tool, a weapon, a con-trick; it’s not filed in the same compartment as love. And not all are unrepentant. The more likeable stories involve women who are able to admit they’ve been wrong about something, like Carol, the systems analyst, in denial about approaching motherhood, or the relentless bargain-hunter who reduces a shop assistant to tears on Christmas Eve but discovers that ‘if you live by the small print