Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/14/15 11:17 AM

Book review: A Cat, A Hat and a Piece of String by Joanne Harris

Just finished an old (well, of 2012 vintage) Joanne Harris and it was like finding a stash of one’s favourite candy, carefully kept in some super-secret hiding place and then, completely and totally forgotten.

A Cat, A Hat and a Piece of String is a short story collection comprising the usual J Harris bouquet: something pretty, something nasty, something blue, something bright, something that has one’s heart beating faster, something that has one recoil, something that tugs at the corner’s of one’s lips.

There are feisty young girls who swim dangerous currents in the Congo, there are sad old men wedded to their banal routine (which of course, to them is anything but banal), there is one set of fascinating deux est machinas, erstwhile gods of Fire and Thunder who now roam the earth just that wee bit lost (a touch of Wim Wenders here, I thought), there is an Elvis impersonator, there is a woman growing huger by the day feeding her manic delusions, there is a woman steadfastly in love with a tree (the world’s first inter-species, non- mammalian story, Harris calls it and you are certain her tongue is lodged firmly in her cheek), there is a paean to a rundown coffee shop which serves as writer’s muse, there is the heartbreakingly current tale of a little girl looking longingly at the road from down which her brothers disappeared with their kidnappers in Togo, there is even a Twitter ghost.

There is the most lovely little love story inspired by the Phantom of the Opera Garnier, and a couple of characters familiar to Harris` readers, Hope and Faith from the Meadowbank retirement home make a comeback, in not one but two stories.

Sample this: `You know Hope of course. Being blind, I think she appreciates your visits even more than I do; they try to find things to entertain us, but when you’ve been a professor at Cambridge, with theatre and cocktail parties and May Balls and Christmas concerts at King’s, you never really learn to appreciate those Tuesday night bingo games.` And there is it, a life gone by, evocatively captured in the most un-maudlin way possible.

The stories are slightly uneven, at times dipping into mild melancholia but still touching the reader with a soft emotive finger. It was delightful to come upon phrases like `playing away` for having one’s bit on the side, and lines like `the air is April in a jar, the sky a mythical shade of spring.`

Fans of a more austere kind of prose may, at this point, recoil, but given the way Joanne Harris` books sell, I suspect there are a lot of people looking for a touch of je ne sais quoi. This book is for them.

A Cat A Hat and A Piece Of StringJoanne Harrisshort stories

Sheila Kumar • August 14, 2015

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