Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

1st Feb 2012


Set in Cornwall, where Lucy grew up, the collection is comprised of twelve tales, and the Cornish sea, sand and moors just as intrinsic to the mood and magic of the anthology as any of its strange and unsettling characters and creatures.

Loneliness and loss are recurring themes, along with purity, innocence and age. In the title story, husbands snatched by mermaids are fetched back from the sea – for a fee:

“She had woken to the smell of salt and damp and a tiny fish in its death throes on the pillow…She followed a rail of sand down the stairs. Her heart thumped in the soles of her bare feet. The door was open. Two green crabs high-stepped across the slates. Bladderwrack festooned the kitchen, and here and there, on the fridge, on the kettle, anemones bloomed, fat and dark as hearts.”

Iris lives for a long time after her husband is stolen by the sea, but then a bizarre business opens on the edge of a harbour, claiming that these men can be tracked and brought back. And so Iris is lowered into the sea in a diving bell, straining to see through the depths.

In this one and the others, Cornish folklore, fairytales and half-remembered ancient myths are collected, collaged and reimagined, brought to life with original imagery and lyrical language.

From snatched spouses to talking magpies and invisible lovers, Wood reinvents all sorts of folkloric and fairytale tropes, and her distinctive voice transforms them into otherworldly allegories of longing, loss and isolation.

My favourites involved hell hounds on the Cornish moor, a woman transforming into a one of the rocks in a circle of standing stones, an uninvited wrecker and a giant’s boneyard; laments and lullabies about the weird and wonderful.

As with any anthology, some of the stories are more successful than others, but overall it’s a seductive and spellbinding introduction to a contemporary and original voice. I’ll be waiting and watching to see what she does next.

Published last month by Bloomsbury, buy it in hardback for £9.89, or for Kindle for £8.29.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended for: Lovers of Angela Carter, and anyone else who loves their fiction rich, inventive and odd.

Other recommended reading: For more original and evocative short stories intertwining myth and magic, investigate The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories by Joan Aiken.

For dark folkloric fairytales with strange and sometimes surreal twists, read Ludmilla Petrushevskaya‘s There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby.

Jane Bradley