My rating: 4 stars
The short stories included in the collection Diving Belles by Lucy Wood are characterised both by an interesting mix of reality with magical or mystical elements, and an insightful presence of time, achieved by a thoughtful distinction between past and present actions and feelings. The passing of time is particularly perceptible on the relationships between family members and loved ones.
The opening story, ‘Diving Belles’, is a fantastic and touching example of how the feelings of the past mingle with those of the present. Iris, the main character, goes under the sea in a diving belle to see her husband, who has been away for many years. Although at first I wasn’t really understanding what was happening, all becomes clear throughout the story. This is a really atmospheric tale, being quite easy to picture the scenes. Every word seems to have been carefully chosen.
Another of my favourite stories in this collection is ‘Of Monsters and Little People’. We are told the story of a woman who is visiting her mother. But as the narrator uses the pronoun ‘you’ throughout the story, it feels like the reader is the main character. The fact that the feelings conveyed are quite relatable also helps to attain that sensation. Despite the presence of magical elements, the story is strangely believable, which is also the case throughout the majority of this collection.
Many feelings are presented in these short stories. ‘The Giant’s Boneyard’ is a tale about young love. Twelve-year-old Gog, who has a phantom body, is at a boneyard with his friend Sunshine and they share some really endearing moments, while trying to understand their feelings for each other. ‘The Wishing Tree’, on the other hand, focuses on the relationship between a mother and a daughter who are spending some days together. It’s one of the stories with least magical elements, which are replaced by various feelings: motherly love, concern and the desire to help.
The sea is also a recurrent element in many of the stories, being used either as a background setting or as a significant piece for the development of the plot. For example, in ‘Beachcombing’, we are introduced to Oscar and his grandmother, who collect things from a beach. The sea brings many things to shore, but also takes others away. The ocean and the cliffs are present on Rita’s mind throughout ‘Countless Stones’. She is turning into stone on a snowy day, but before that happens we get an insight into her relationship with her former boyfriend. It’s impressive how Lucy Wood managed to showcase two different personalities in such a short number of pages.
But not all the stories were told in a way that made me connect with the characters, unfortunately. That was the case with ‘Magpies’, a story about a man who has just been with his sister after a long time without seeing her, and ‘Lights in Other People’s Houses’, which introduces us to Maddy and Russel, a couple who have recently moved together and have found a wrecker in their house.
The magical or mystical elements are not consistently present in all the stories. In ‘Blue Moon’, they are quite prevalent. That story takes place at a nursing home for people who have been banished from other establishments. One of the residents is Mrs Tivoli, who can turn into a hare. This is one of the strangest stories and, by the end, I had more questions than answers. On the contrary, ‘Wisht’, which focuses on the relationship between a young girl and her father, has almost no magical elements.
The last story in this collection, ‘Some Drolls Are Like That and Some Are Like This’, is suitably about storytelling. A droll teller struggles to remember stories about a seaside village to tell to two tourists.
“The stories were embedded in the landscape and he followed them, from that cove to that hill to that ruin.”
Diving Belles takes us on journey to the past of various characters without losing sight of the present. Despite the magical elements, the majority of the tales are quite relatable and deserve to be read.