There are few things in this world better than a carefully crafted short story. They never outstay their welcome; simply make their mark and leave you wanting more. Kirsty Logan’s recent collection, The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales, is packed with prime examples of the form; memorable snapshots of lives less ordinary.
Some people may be put off by the use of ‘fairytales’ in the title. Such people should think again as these tales are as far away from children’s stories as is possible; more Pan’s Labyrinth than The Princess and The Pea. Pre-Disneyfication, fairy tales were often gothic, disturbing, violent, psycho-sexual and full of lessons learnt the hard way. Imagine modern versions of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Heinrich Hoffman’s Tales of Struwwelpeter, or more recently the fiction of Angela Carter, and you have an idea of where Logan is coming from.
Like the above, Logan’s writing is sensual, subversive and often sinister, and is packed with rich and surprising imagery, more magical surrealism than realism. There are matroyshka dolls, mechanical and paper men, clockwork hearts, and children with animal parts. For most of the characters there is always temptation, and many have to choose between heart and head, or at least try to. Love, and lust, are ever present; usually in the shape of longing or loss.
But these tales are not pastiche, or an exercise in genre. This is modern literary fiction at its best, and what unites them all is Logan’s imagination, which seems fit to burst, and which displays a playfulness which can mask the bitter truths and, often painful, experiences which seem to have inspired the writer in the first place. From the opening title story, where clockwork tickers prove to be just as unreliable as the real ones, The Rental Heart is a beautifully detailed delight. If I read a more ingenious story this year than ‘Coin-Operated Boys’, (like Alan Moore adapting Hans Christian Andersen), or a more heartbreaking one than ‘Momma Grows A Diamond’, then it will have to be something truly special.
Many of these tales are about a search for meaning and identity; discovering who you are, and who you are not, and the trials and tribulations along the way. Logan’s stories subvert expectations as well as play with them, and the results are often exquisite, and unexpectedly emotional. Once you finish reading The Rental Heart the world outside is not as it was, and is all the better for it.