JIGS & REELS BY JOANNE HARRIS
BLACK SWAN BOOKS (PAPER BACK), 2005
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Take your partners, please.
Suburban witches, defiant old ladies, ageing monsters, suicidal Lottery winners, wolf men, dolphin women and middle-age manufacturers of erotic leatherwear: in Joanne Harris’s first collection of short stories the miraculous goes hand-in-hand with the mundane, the sour with the sweet, and the beautiful, the grotesque, the seductive and the disturbing are never more than one step away.
This is an eclectic collection of tales for our times that shows a side to Joanne Harris you have never seen before. So go on, be tempted. After all, it’s only dancing.
IT’S MONDAY, SO IT MUST BE RICE PUDDING AGAIN. IT’S NOT so much the fact that they’re careful of our teeth, here at the Meadowbank House, rather a general lack of imagination. As I told Claire the other day, there are lots of things you can eat without having to chew. Oysters. Foie gras. Avocado vinaigrette. Strawberries and cream. Crème brûlée with vanilla and nutmeg. Why then this succession of bland puddings and gummy meats? Claire –the sulky blonde, always chewing a wad of gum – looked at me as if I was mad. God forbid our remaining taste buds should be overstimulated. I saw Hope grinning round the last mouthful of ocean pie, and I knew she’d heard me. Hope may be blind, but she’s no slouch.
FAITH AND HOPE GO SHOPPING
I thought Jigs & Reels was a really enjoyable collection of short stories. The collection shows off Harris’s diversity as a writer. The tales in Jigs & Reels touch and the light and dark aspects of life and vary from the funny to the chilling. I also loved the fact Harris included a little note of each story’s origin.
FAITH AND HOPE GO SHOPPING: I love Faith and Hope. I’ve read other stories by Harris featuring these two feisty old women. I this story they escape the miserable nursing home where they live on go a spending spree in London. This story is funny and sort of sad at the same time.
THE UGLY SISTER: Another funny but sad at the time tale. This time Harris deals with washed-out pantomime stars in her wickedly funny version of Cinderella.
GASTRONOMICON: I loved this story. This tale is funny and creepy at the same time. Harris shows food in a sinister, unsettling light. This story is sort of hilarious.
FULE’S GOLD: I loved this story as well. Harris shows us the consequences of greed and jealously when a teacher plots to steal a pupil’s brilliant, original story and ends up scrabbling about in the show like a mad man when he loses it during a storm.
CLASS OF ’81: Harris offers another funny and sad tale. Class of ’81 is a high school reunion with a difference when a group of witches get back together years later and all their old rivalry and insecurities still exist. A great tale.
HELLO, GOODBYE: Harris offers a modern satire on the world’s obsession with beauty, fame and scandal. Another tale tinged with sadness. This time the setting is a celebrity funeral where the journalist for a glossy magazine is terrified her working class parents will expose her and force her to face her sister’s death. I loved the fact Harris doesn’t reveal the dead celebrity is the narrator’s sister until the end.
FREE SPIRIT: Harris offers a chilling, unsettling tale. I got a case of the creeps reading this one.
AUTO-DA-FE: Harris offers another chilling, unsettling tale. This time the subject matter is road rage. The main character becomes violence and dangerous behind the wheel of his beloved car. The end of the story hints at even darker events than road rage.
THE SPECTATOR: Harris offers another chilling tale set in the future. An old man likes to take a walk every day past the school he went to as a boy and watch the children playing. It makes him feel young again. His intentions are seen a sinister by the robots who are in charge of order and he’s taken away to prison. This story gave me the chills.
AL AND CHRISTINE’S WORLD OF LEATHER: Harris offers us a purely funny tale. A woman unwittingly enters into a business making leather bondage gear with hilarious consequences. There is a hint of sadness as well but the tale has a happy ending.
THE G-SUS GENE: Harris offers another schilling future tale. This was the weakest tale in the collection and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others.
A PLACE IN THE SUN: Harris offers another chilling tale of the future. This time around the subject matter is the beach or rather society’s obsession with body beautiful and looking good on the beach. People are granted access to different beaches depending on how thin and attractive they are. The narrator is terrified of being downgraded to the All-Public beach.
TEA WITH THE BIRDS: This is rather, sweet touching tale of a woman who finds her mysterious Japanese neighbour and his early morning fruit and vegetable deliveries a nuisance until she discovers he has used the vegetables to create sculptures. When he moves away she reluctantly misses him.
BREAKFAST AT TESCO’S: Harris offers another butter-sweet tale. The main character is an old woman who has breakfast in the café at her local Tesco’s every day. She develops a close bond with Cheryl, the young woman who works there and tries to encourage her to end her abusive relationship. This tale is also tinged with sadness.
COME IN, MR LOWRY, YOUR NUMBER IS UP: This tale is quite dark and deals with a suicidal lottery winner. I thought this story was very sad.
WAITING FOR GANDALF: I thought this was a great story set in the world of action-adventure games. The main characters are villains and monster who are getting a bit long in the tooth struggling in a world populated by younger, less serious monsters.
ANY GIRL CAN BE A CANDYKISS GIRL: Harris offers another chilling and sinister tale with hints of child abuse and molestation. The hints are subtle but undeniable and this story gave me the chills.
THE LITTLE MERMAID: Harris offers her own version of this fairytale. The setting is a beach where physically disables sea creatures visit. Harris offers a sad tale of unrequited love and the length a dolphin girl is willing to go to catch the attention of the object of her affection.
FISH: Harris offers another creepy, quite sinister tale of a couple of honeymoon in Naples who discover paradise is not quite what they expected.
NEVER GIVE A SUCKER…: Harris offers another funny, satirical tale of a vampire well past his prime.
EAU DE TOILETTE: I thought this was another quite weak story, a satire about rich people and empty lives.