I absolutely love short stories, and this fierce, feminist collection is an absolute winner! It has been a little while since I got properly stuck into a short story collection, and after I’d written reams of notes about the first story (which is about 6 pages long), I remembered why a good short story is quite so good!
The lives of women are at the centre of these stories in She-Clown, and we meet many different women, of all ages: mothers, girlfriends, daughters, wives, sisters. There is a sort of chronology to the collection, through the age of the central characters and the stage of life they are at. From the opening story ‘Portrait of the Artist’ which is about a schoolgirl, we move through different women at various stages of life: a young couple facing the responsibilities of getting older in ‘Benediction’; a married woman juggling work and her children in ‘An Extra Teat’. Towards the end of the collection we come to ‘The Sparrow’ and ‘Granny’s Gun’, who feature older women: respectively a retiring doctor and a grandmother who ruffles feathers by giving her grandson a toy gun for his birthday.
Themes of performance and costume run through the collection: the characters are often performing the roles expected of them as female members of society, or are trying on a different costume to see a different way of living life, or becoming the women they would like to be. This is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the title story ‘She-Clown’ – where Charlie has become accustomed not only to performing her comedic act as a clown for children’s parties, but also to acting out the sexualisation that always comes into play when she enters these married couple’s homes and meets these middle aged husbands.
The stories are held together not just by their connecting themes, but through female central characters whose names begin with ‘C’. For me this had the effect that each new woman I met bore the weight of the experiences of those I’d read about before her, as the characters began to intermingle in my mind. It wasn’t that they weren’t drawn distinct characters with their own struggles, but something about the culminating effect of their similar names very much built a sense of “we’re all in this together” for me.
There are a variety narrative styles throughout the collection, including some quite experimental touches at times. We see glimpses of magic realism in the story ‘The Poison Frog’, in which a visit to the dentist reveals that there’s a frog living inside the throat of the narrator’s mother; ‘3 o’clock’ and ‘G-lorious’ explore unique forms of structural and word play; and the culminating final story ‘Woman of the Year’ is a metafictional nod to the reader, as the characters we have met come together.
Some of my favourite stories though, were the narratives that spotlighted everyday occurrences, giving them the interrogation that they deserve. For me ‘Carnival’ really encaptulates this- it explores the gendered power dynamics of an office, and the big effects of seemingly small moments of everyday sexism. I also loved ‘Camel Toe’ (not just because it is such a fantastic title for a short story!), but because it explores the relationship between two sisters, and one evening they spend together, that has a big impact on the way they see their relationship and themselves.
If you can’t tell, I loved these stories…! I’d recommend them to both readers who already enjoy short stories, but I also think they’d be a great collection for those who have not spent much time with short stories before. In fact, if anyone is struggling to find a novel that holds their attention at the moment, now might be a good time to try some short fiction!
She-Clown and Other Stories is by Hannah Vincent and publishes on the 26th March, with Myriad. Many thanks to the Publisher, for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.