The Monkey’s Wedding & Other Stories by Joan Aiken

The_Monkeys_Wedding_Other_Stories_Joan_Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase author had a long and rich history when it came to writing, and this posthumous short story collection shows her flair for innovation and imagination.

From a bottled mermaid brought home from a sailor’s adventures at sea to a vicar reincarnated as a malevolent cat, fantasy is combined with magic, myth and adventure to form weird, wonderful and immersive tales.

While on one level the stories in The Monkey’s Wedding are a cartoonish circus parade likely to beloved by younger readers, there is a rich sophistication to the structure and imagery.

References to ‘dandelion clock hair,’ ‘red hot coals of stars’ and a villainous uncle with ‘a smile like an evil old saint, silky as an olive stone’ illustrate an accomplished use of language and atmosphere, and a dizzying array of characters and ideas showcase the author’s skill for invention.

Highlights include Octopi in the Sky, a tale of a hallucinating man ‘haunted by squids’ that reminded me of Cortazar’s Letter to a Young Lady in Paris.

Reading in Bed recounts an encounter with a fur-cloaked devil reminiscent of the vodka-swilling, pistol-toting daemons from Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

Red Hot Favourite is a much more innocent Famous Five-style romp involving mistaken identity and abandoned train tunnels, while The Sale of Midsummer has a magic similar to Sleeping Beauty with its misremembered, intertwined legends.

The super-intelligent mice in Honeymaroon will delight Douglas Adams fans, and The Helper is a sinister and ominous tale involving a crackpot inventor and his robotic creation.

Although I knew next to nothing about Joan Aiken before encountering The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories, I can now say with conviction that as a collection it’s absorbing and addictive.

Published later this month by American imprint Small Beer Press, it’s on Amazon here, awaiting price and availability details.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Escapism into a fantastical world where mice set up trade unions and hallucinated octopi accompany you on the commute to work.

Other recommended reading: For more fairytales with a surreal, sinister twist, read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber or There Once Lived a Woman by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.

Jane Bradley