The Donkey Driver's Wife (and other stories) by Sally Quilford

After finishing one book on my Kindle, on a recent flight to the UK, I browsed the couple of hundred titles I’ve downloaded over the years which I still hadn’t read. The title ‘The Donkey Driver’s Wife’ by Sally Quilford caught my eye. I’ve downloaded several of this author’s books over the years, usually when she has a special offer; but none of her e-books are expensive.

This book is a collection of short stories, many of them unpublished although a few won awards or places in competitions. They’re not typical women’s magazine fodder, as I quickly discovered. Instead they’re slightly darker, and in some cases quite thought-provoking. In the introduction the author states that she realised as she put the collection together that she has quite a fascination with inanimate objects; this is reflected in several of the stories.

The first story, ‘Don’t Play on South Street’ is chilling in a way that becomes increasingly apparent as the story progresses. Is an old wives’ tale true, about a particular street leading to tragedy? Or is it the rumour itself which leads people to dark thoughts which then turn to tragedy? Or is it in fact about an unwitting slide into mental illness or dementia…? While the story has a conclusion, it leaves many questions open.

The second story, ‘Mr Potato Head’, apparently began as a kind of satire, and is bizarre in the extreme in the first pages. But it turns into a story of growth and development as a trodden-down woman begins to take small steps towards independence.

Then there’s a story about a woman whose mind is frozen in time, after a tragedy. There's a story about a rock which notices what goes on in the world, and appreciates people being friendly. There’s one about a kind of social worker who becomes emotionally involved in the people she’s working with, and carries her own secrets. There's also a very chilling story about two children escaping from someone they loathe. At the end of the book there’s an unusual story; it took me a little while to understand what was happening, but it’s quite powerful and made an excellent ending to the book.

There are others, too, all very readable. The short story that gives its name to the collection is a realistic, rather stark story set in the 1980s miners’ strike in the UK.

I’m not sure I’d have started the book at all if I’d realised they would be such dark stories, but they’re engaging and well-written. There’s more bad language than I like, but in context it’s mostly not inappropriate.

Recommended to anyone who likes short stories with a bite to them. Only available in Kindle form.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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