Around about ten years ago I was collecting old Virago Modern Classics as diligently as I could in charity and second hand shops. I probably have something like 400 of them now - I'll make a proper list one day - but it was a good time for collecting. Plenty turned up and they were cheap, and now I have an excellent library of things just waiting for me.
One of the authors I got quite a bit of was Sylvia Townsend Warner, mostly because I thought I should like her, although I didn't really get on with the only one I tried to read (Lolly Willows) and haven't picked them up since. I'll give Lolly Willows another go sometime, but for now I'm particularly grateful to find I had a collection of her short stories.
It was the Handheld edition of 'Kingdoms of Elfin' that encouraged me to explore again, and more short stories seemed like a good place to start. My copy is in danger of falling apart - I'll replace it with a more robust one if I get the chance - because is it ever full of treasures.
There are some of the 'Kingdoms of Elfin' stories in here, along with things from I guess more or less every collection she wrote - more to list and consider tracking down. I started at the end of her writing life when I read 'Kingdoms of Elfin', which I understood to be a departure in subject matter for her. Using fairies as subjects might well be a departure but the themes and tone turn out to be more universal to her work.
There's a gentle melancholy that runs through these stories that gives them a particularly haunting quality. There's also a streak of humour for balance, it's a seductive combination - the sort of thing that has you thinking just one more, and kept me up reading far to late every time I picked this book up. Add to that her perception and sympathy, along with her willingness to tackle taboos and throw in startling images and the appeal deepens.
I can't really pick favourites from so many, I just feel I've found a book that's an absolute treasure by an author who offers far more than I had imagined from that half hearted attempt at Lolly Willows. Maybe it helps that I particularly like short stories, especially when they feel complete in themselves - as these do. Each one feels like a masterpiece, as well as a masterclass in the genre, to me - and I have all the enthusiasm of the late convert.*
*I'm still waiting for the plumbing issues to be resolved. The current plumber is not being especially communicative - he was meant to tell me when he was coming round today, he didn't, although apparently he has inspected the drains. After I called and emailed him he's asked when I can give the drain people access, but has not so far indicated when will work for them. Or if he's asking any of the affected neighbors for the same access. So it might be tomorrow, it might be Wednesday, I might have to mess work around, I might not. I won't sleep well because I'll spend half the night worrying about it, and I'd like to think I could have written rather better about this book if I wasn't so distracted by blocked bloody drains,