Thursday, 8 September 2011

Review: Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

First published in Great Britain in: 2008
By: David Fickling Books

Ten stabs to the heart.

Ten tales to poke and jab – at the darkest fears, your secret desires.

Margo Lanagan’s electrifying stories take place in worlds not quite our own and yet each one illuminates what it is to be human. They are stories of yearning for more, and learning to live with what you have. Stories that show the imprint love leaves on us all.

For anyone who likes to be surprised, touched, unsettled, intrigued, or scared, prepare to be dazzled by what a master storyteller can do in a few short pages.

My review:

I haven't read Margo Lanagan's Printz Award-winning novel, Tender Morsels, so this collection of short stories was my first exposure to her as a writer. I have to say, I'm now intrigued to read more of her. Not so much because I loved these stories - although I certainly really liked a lot of them - but because they are so unusual and strange, my feeling is that Lanagan's mind is an unique one and that when reading her work, you're getting something you couldn't get with anyone else.

I admit, the first 2 stories in Red Spikes ('Baby Jane' and 'Monkey's Paternoster') were so odd, I didn't fully understand them, but by the 3rd, I had warmed into and become accustomed to Lanagan's style. Lanagan plays around with everything from POV and story structure to our ideas about established mythical figures: 'Winkie' turns the nursery-rhyme character Wee Willie Winkie, into an ogre who steals children from their beds, flays them alive and then uses their skin to fashion himself new eyelids (I told you these stories were weird!). It is genuinely terrifying.

I think my favourite stories were the ones that inverted myths and tales I'm already familiar with (probably they were easier for me to follow). As well as 'Winkie', 'Under Heaven, Over Hell' describes a version of purgatory and I really adored 'Mouse Maker', which is about a community which turns on a witch in its midst and 'Daughter of the Clay', which reminded me of Holly Black's Tithe - it's about a girl who discovers she's not really a girl, but a creature put there in place of the real thing. Lanagan's take on it is different, though - her take on everything is different. And creepy. And surreal. And riveting.

The way I read short story collections is to dip into them whenever the fancy takes me and Red Spikes is well suited to that. These stories are like little darts to the brain; a way to wake up your imagination and get you thinking, while you're reading and for a long time after.

Rating: 4 stars


  1. I haven't read anything by this author either....but based on the description of the plot it sounds like you might really enjoy reading The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. It's a collection of short stories that re-tell fairy tales and myths by incorporating more of the darker side that was evident in the original stories. IT IS SOOO GOOD! I had to read it for my Gothic Lit class a couple of years ago and I flew threw it! Some of the stories are a little creepy....but there are some that are a lot of fun!

  2. Thanks, Natalie! I did read the title story in The Bloody Chamber a while ago. I need to read the whole collection; thanks for reminding me!


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