Planet 226

Suzy Ceulan Hughes reviews
Writing on Water
by Maggie Harris and
Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise
by Crystal Jeans

Writing on Water

Seren, £8.99

Maggie Harris’s third collection of short fiction roams the world from Guyana to rural Wales, with ‘Sending for Chantal’ (Caribbean winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014) as a powerful opener. Written in the voice of a child, it tells the story of a mother who has emigrated to America, leaving her four-year-old daughter in the care of her grandmother and Uncle Marcus. She has gone off not in search of her fortune, but in the hope of escaping the mire of poverty, building a better life and sending for Chantal to join her ‘soon soon’. Every week, Chantal waits six long days for the Sunday telephone call from her mother. But soon soon never comes. ‘My mother voice growing old over the telephone.’ It is heart stoppingly sad, and sets a theme that runs through the collection: of people, driven by hope and desperation, trying to make a better life for themselves, and then falling into despair, or worse, when things don’t turn out as they hoped. Like the refugee Isxaaq in ‘Like Lizards Ride Water’, who stands ‘wavering between a past and a future that seemed to offer equal despair’. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, in ‘Moving On’, the wife who finds that the longed-for move from Pinner to rural Wales is far from the idyll she had imagined: ‘Don’t you see, this is not my life! I am being sucked in, I’m drowning!’

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