Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books: PELT AND OTHER STORIES by Catherine McNamara

Title: Pelt and Other Stories
Author: Catherine McNamara
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

In between my getting stuck into the novels on my TBR list, I have also been dipping into my collection of short stories - that wonderful genre that allows you to escape what may be a too serious, too tedious, or simply too long novel and lose yourself in other worlds in a fraction of the time.

I have mixed feelings about Catherine McNamara' s collection of stories. There are some I really  liked, and a great deal more that I found myself not enjoying one bit towards the end.
McNamara writes of a world I remember with fond memories - West Africa, more specifically Ghana. Her collection of short stories moves easily from Ghana to Australia to Italy and back again to Ghana and so on. The bulk of the collection though is based in West Africa.

What I really enjoyed about her Ghana stories was how she took me back there with her accurate descriptions of the heat and the humidity; with her unrushed telling of the unequal relationships between the Western expatriates and their local counterparts; with her descriptions of the food, and with her eye for detail in capturing the perspectives of the expats while still allowing for the locals' point of view to get fair treatment in her stories.
I did not however enjoy what seemed to be a pervasive theme in her Ghana stories, which  by the time I had read the  fourth Ghana-based story, started to seem unimaginative. That theme of the wealthy expatriate, who unwittingly becomes the victim of some swindle by the local - be it in the form of a pregnant local girl, or in the form of the local boy 'dating' the wealthy older Western woman - who will ultimately be their passport to Europe. I almost skipped right through the Ghana stories - which was unfortunate because I had hoped for a lot more besides that almost clich├ęd theme.

The first story is Pelt, the story of a Ghanaian girl carrying the child of her married German lover. It is written from the point of view of the the girl, and although she is the 'other woman', the author does a great job giving a perspective which makes the wife the interloper in the couple's lives as she comes to terms with the awkward nature of their warped relationship of husband, wife and lover. The Coptic Bride was one of my favourite. I enjoyed the subtlety of the story in relaying the fraught relationship between two brothers.
Infection is the story of the prodigal Ghanaian son who returns home to bury his sister - who has died from an 'unspoken' illness. The Clock Tower is a simply told story of a widower navigating the intricacies of being alone. In between there was Opague, which like Where the Wounded Go and Volta repeats that same theme of the expat and local. In Opaque, the central character is Frances, the expat wife who leaves her diplomat husband for the Ghanaian businessman. Similarly with Montgomery Akuofo - Father of Twins and Innocent, the unequal relationship is repeated.
At the Malga and Veronique In the Dark, were lovely stories simply telling of human frailties and of a marriage unravelling.

I enjoyed the stories based in other parts of the world, and this actually annoyed me because I found the characters had more depth and breath than her Ghanaian characters. They were allowed to be normal people getting on with their lives, having normal encounters, dealing with problems that in their normalcy almost seemed banal. To me that simplicity  is what captured, and not the almost demeaning characterisation given to her Ghanaian characters. Would I recommend the collection? Yes, for the collection of stories based in other parts of the world, and a word of warning with the Ghana stories -  they start to grate after a while.

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