Published by Mariner Books on Aug. 2012
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
I think we’ve established that I am a sucker for anything that blurs the line between myth and reality. Karen Russell is my goddess, The Tiger’s Wife made me swoon, and No One Is Here Except All of Us totally charmed me. When I heard about Diving Belles, the title story of which is about an old woman who goes under the sea in a diving bell to try to retrieve her husband, who was taken by the mermaids many years before, I knew it would be right up my alley.
I could not have been more right. Lucy Wood’s debut short story collection is haunting, dreamy, and so, so beautiful. I’m not familiar with Cornish folklore, but my understanding is that each of these stories involves some aspect of this folklore, from wisht hounds to droll tellers, husband-stealing mermaids to buccas. Now, let me stop you before you decide, “I don’t know what any of those things are, so I don’t care to read this.” It doesn’t matter. You will be so fascinated and curious that you will spend hours reading up on Cornish folklore, and you will love it.
In “Countless Stones,” a woman wakes up in the morning and feels that she is slowly turning to stone. The cold stillness begins creeping upward from her feet, and she knows that soon she will be drawn to the ring of frozen rock people perched atop a cliff over the sea, where she will stand for an unpredictable period of time. She may return in a few weeks, or she could become one of the lichen-scarred rocks that stand solidly for years. It’s apparently a thing that happens and no cause for alarm. She just makes preparations for her house to be cared for and deals with her ex-boyfriend.
“She let her thoughts wander and they swooped upwards like birds, so that now she thought of a bird flying around a room, now she thought of someone singing, of marbles, of someone laughing in their sleep, of a bird flying round a room, of one lovely eye moving, of the wind, of lichen, a buzzard circling, a single snowflake, thrift, lichen and the wind.”
“Notes from the House Spirits” is told from the perspective of — who else — the house spirits that inhabit one dwelling. As the years go by, they see couples start families, families grow and leave, vacancies, neglect, new families, and renovations. It’s the spirits’ job to protect the house, and they do little things like pushing the dead leaves back out through the letter box and closing the curtains — it’s not their job to close the curtains, but they prefer them to be closed at night. It’s quiet and mournful, watching people come and go and live entire lives as the spirits go on observing with no sense of time.
There is also a nursing home for witches, a wishing tree, a boy searching for his father in a giant’s boneyard, and a wrecker telling stories of an underwater town.
I’m pretty sure Lucy Wood is actually a will-o’-the-wisp herself, because she has this crazy mythological ability to draw you relentlessly, helplessly off the beaten path and into the wild moors of her imagination. I really loved the way she weaves together folklore and reality in an absorbing, dreamy, whimsical way. She is a wonderful talent, and her words made me feel the mournful damp of the moors, hear the pulsing surf, and taste the salt in the sea air. Her stories have a strong voice and a cohesive tone throughout the collection.
Diving Belles is a gorgeous, surreal collection of stories merging modern life and Cornish folklore. Although short story collections are perfect for savoring, I couldn’t put this book down, and I read it over a span of 30 hours. I needed full immersion in these murky, maritime stories! Do yourself a favor and dive into these beauties headfirst. But take a deep breath first, because you’ll never want to surface.