Artefacts and Other Stories by Rebecca Burns
Illustrated by: n/a
Translated by: n/a
Published: September 2017, Odyssey Books
Length: 166 pages
Narrated By: N/A
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Where Did I Get It? I was kindly sent a copy in return for a review
Blurb: That dandelion. A flash of stubborn yellow in a dark box of space. It had promised sunshine but had tasted sour.
A dandelion. A mayfly. A family, bereft.
Items and mementos of a life, lived hard and with love, or long, empty, bitter.
In these sharply drawn and unflinching short stories, Rebecca Burns unpicks the connection between the lives we live and what we leave behind.
Opening Line (From the first story The Dandelion):
“Do you know they are talking about digging a tunnel?”
My Review: Artefacts and Other Stories is a collection of stories that are sensitive and thoughtful, all very different and yet threaded together by the theme of how death and war affects life and the lives of those around us.
The settings of the stories varied from modern day through to just before WWI broke out. I liked this variety and enjoyed the rich settings that Rebecca Burns painted, even in the shortest of the stories.
There were two stories in particular that I loved and that I found myself thinking about repeatedly after I’d finished reading the collection.
The first is called The Last Game, August 1914 and is a snapshot of families gathered to watch the last cricket match of the season. Parents picnicking whilst their teenage sons play on the green – food is passed around, fathers watch their sons with pride, mothers grumble about having the bleach their cricket whites every week.
Then there are mutterings about whether the boys ‘went’ and how they all went together, which, along with the date in the title, implied they’d been to sign up for the army.
The bleak heat of the weather, the nervous mutterings of the parents, the fierce pride and the desperation for the game to be as long as possible all gives the story an ominous feel. It was a clever way of showing how the parents were actively burying their feelings about the future and creating a ‘normal’ afternoon whilst they can.
The second story is called The Greatcoat and is the one that haunted me most of all. An unsettling but touching story about Jack, a young man who has returned from four years of war without his best friend, a greatcoat the only physical reminder of him. Jack is supposed to return his greatcoat but although he wants to forget the war, he doesn’t want to lose the connection to his friend that it represents.
The story is full of gentle but lingering imagery and I found it stayed with me for days after reading. It was the only one in the collection I went back to re-read as soon as I’d finished it the first time.
Artefacts has a clever, thought-provoking central theme and I would recommed picking it up if you enjoy short stories – along with Rebecca’s other collection The Settling Earth which I reviewed previously.
I did struggle a bit to read the whole collection in one go, but I think that is more down to my current reading preferences as I struggled with the last short story collection I tried to read, too. I’m just not in a short story frame of mind at the moment.
My Rating: 4/5*
Sound like your kind of read?
(Prices correct at time of writing)