Building from the foundations.
Publisher: Headline (Hachette)
First Published: 22nd October 2013
Date Reviewed: 25th October 2013
A baker’s dozen of creators, including Marr, Pratt, and one artist, have teamed together to produce a collection of short stories based on others’ works.
Rags & Bones is an anthology that retells several stories – all with some sort of fantasy, paranormal, and/or horror base – to create one solid and undeniably excellent book.
It’s interesting to note that the title of the collection comes from its concept. Marr and Pratt wished for stories that were the result of existing tales rewritten it to the effect that the meaning was still there, and perhaps certain elements (for example Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper’s Spindle is very much Sleeping Beauty) – but were still original works. As the editors put it: “boil those stories down to the rags and bones, and make something new from their fundamental essences”.
And it works. Whilst the stories may indeed at times be easy to place within their context, at others it is more difficult. Certainly it is to the collective’s advantage that the stories chosen for reworking are not all timeless classics. There are lesser known works amongst them which means that there is a lot of ‘new’ for the reader, as well as ‘old’ – it is unlikely that any one reader will know of every story represented.
The stories themselves are compelling and the writers chosen are all rather famous. The horror in the tales is often understated and of the grim, psychological sort rather than the gore and violence sort. And the range of settings and times is vast. Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain when or where a story is set. This adds to the tales rather than detracts.
So each story bares a message. Carrie Ryan’s brilliant That The Machine May Progress Eternally takes on E M Forster and weaves a foreboding tale of a child of a post-apocalyptic earth falling into the technological underworld where humans with no reason to move about study history from the safety of their kingdom. Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeping Spindle borrows from Hans Christian Anderson and switches elements around to create a humorous version of an already chilling children’s story. Melissa Marr herself channels Kate Chopin and writes of selkies, a mer-woman imprisoned by a well-meaning but abusive human, in a study of both the selkie myth itself and the wider context of inequality. And then there is the exceptional When First We Were Gods by Rick Yancey, the longest story in the book, a purely sci-fi retelling of The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne that focuses on a specific sort of human immortality, looking at what is lost when forever is achieved. Woven into the collection are Charles Vess’s illustrations, artistic retellings of older tales and poems. The addition of Vess’s work is a reprieve of sorts, a nice method of segmentation, that is provided just as much time for explanation as the written works. (Each contributor explains their inspiration and why they chose it following their story.)
The works highlighted above are those chosen by the reviewer – there are plenty more and each one is just as worthy as the rest. There are no average stories in the collection, the sensational quality is consistent throughout. And whilst the messages and meanings may differ from one to the next, the overall ideas of knowledge, of thinking before you act, of human agency in general.
On the face of it, Rags & Bones is a mixture of oft-scary genres, but it is so much more. Real horror comes in patches, slowly, and timeless fantasies tend to have a dark base. You don’t read this book, become frightened and miss a night’s sleep. You will sleep at night. What these stories do is creep into your consciousness and make you aware of very real ideas and possibilities, as well as things that already happen. And this is regardless of whether the story is of a believable future or of vampires and zombies.
The gorgeous cover art will stay with you, the collective of popular and talented talented writers will stay with you, and the concept of wishes coming with a price, like Rumplestiltskin’s promise, will stay with you and haunt you for a good while.
There are ways to scare, there are ways to inform, and then there is Rags & Bones.
I received this book for review from Headline.
October 28, 2013, 6:02 am
wow, sounds really good, Charlie!
Short stories are not my thing, but the way you have described this book makes me want to read it… and dream with that gothic tales! :)
The picture of the cover is quite disturbing!
October 28, 2013, 10:21 am
This sounds like an excellent collection Charlie. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. As you probably know I have a new found love for short story collections which started at the end of last year. I might have to keep an eye out for this.
October 28, 2013, 11:36 am
I usually eschew short story collections, but I might consider it for listening in the car. I’ll definitely watch for this one!
October 28, 2013, 5:00 pm
This does sound good! Short story collections are hit and miss with me, but I usually find gems here and there that make me keep coming back to them.
October 29, 2013, 1:02 am
Sounds amazing! I’m not the world’s biggest short stories fan, but the trustiest path to my heart is short stories that are reworkings of other stories (especially fairy tales, oh the Neil Gaiman story sounds so great).
October 31, 2013, 11:23 am
Isi: You know, they aren’t usually my thing either, at least compared to my love of novels. But some of the stories in this book are pretty long (Rick Yancey’s, for example, is about 40 pages) and the overall atmosphere makes it rather different. It’s an eerie cover, isn’t it!
Jessica: I think you’d like this one :) Considering what I said to Isi above, this is a book that would make a fan of someone not so keen, so if you’re already enjoying short stories it’ll only make you love them more.
Rhapsody: I’d say this would work well on audio, and I’d hazard a guess you’d enjoy it :)
Literary Feline: Same here, I tend to feel either nonplussed or very happy with them. I’d say this is one to go back to – I’m actually pretty upset I’ve finished it already.
Jenny: The Gaiman is very very funny. It’s one of the shorter ones, but also one of the few based on the older classics. I know what you mean about reworkings as I feel similar. Weird that it’s the less original stories that can be the most alluring.