on Dec. 20, 2012 :
Four of the five stories in this collection have important features in common: They are all poignant accounts of the ways in which the past can exert its influence on the present - sometimes through a romantic keepsake; sometimes through a headstone in a graveyard; sometimes through the sheer evocative power of a location.
The stories are clearly told, but they have, by their very nature, complicated chronologies:
The first three seem to be set mainly during the 1940s and '50s - with accounts of young children being sent off to play in the park by themselves all morning while Mother bakes bread at home; of isolated Welsh farms seemingly without telephones; of characters grieving still over loved ones lost during the Great War. Certainly many of the cultural references (e.g., Ronald Coleman) come from a bygone age, and even some of the vocabulary (e.g. 'snood') may be lost on general readers under pensionable age.
The fourth is, broadly speaking, contemporary; but it derives its narrative impetus from events that took place 25 years before the story's own 'present day'.
In each case, there is a chink - if not a full-scale warp - in the timeline, and the cause is invariably that most potent of agents: memory.
The fifth story, by contrast, is a highly entertaining pastiche based on the work of one of our leading crime writers - a hybrid of satire and absurdism that is, for the most part, deftly handled.
The reader may cry out for a solution to the (admittedly incidental) murders, but can still enjoy the piece as a light-hearted romp with many surreal twists and turns.
Even here, though, the cultural references (Veronica Lake; Jane Russell; Juliette Greco) might prove mystifying for younger readers who are not equipped to do the necessary visualising.
It could be argued that this final story does not really belong with the other four. Yes, it provides the recommended light relief after several helpings of melancholy and other-worldliness; but it may be too much of a mis-match for the reader's total comfort.
(reviewed 9 months after purchase)