Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

8 November, 2010

I’ve been wanting to read this collection of short stories since I first heard that Neil Gaiman and Sarah Waters were fans of Kelly Link. Imagine being endorsed by such greats! And as the days become shorter, and the nights draw in, I just felt like reading something chilling and gothic. However, Kelly Link‘s Pretty Monster wasn’t really gothic enough for me although it is a wonderful collection of strange tales. It’s described as tall tales on the back cover (which I should have really read), but the the black and yellow cover art fooled me into thinking there would be some gruesome ghosts. Which there were, but not really my kind. There were notes of Buffy and other American teen tv and films (which I love watching) but I guess it just wasn’t the flavour I was looking for at that particular moment. Maybe it was a little too modern for me.

But, there was one story which enchanted me and that was The Constable of Abal. Set in a country that doesn’t exist, the story is about a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, sticking with her mercurial mother as they travel across the country telling fortunes, blackmailing clients and living the high life. They catch ghosts on the ends of ribbons and feed them with little drops of blood. And one day, things change as the mother takes a job as a housekeeper all the while searching for something. It was a beautiful story which filled my head with wonder and I loved it.

I also liked The Faery Handbag which reminded me a little of Rip Van Winkle and Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men. In this story the narrator’s grandmother is from a country with a strange name that was absorbed into her magical handbag from which occasionally emerges strange people. Imagine having a handbag like that!

Magic for Beginners reminded me a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and felt like a homage to the cult tv series and The Specialist’s Hat was probably the most chilling tale in the collection. And finally The Wrong Grave which opened the collection was a rather funny and sweet ghost story.

So I guess I enjoyed more than half of the stories in Pretty Monster. The collection itself reminded me a little of Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu although less magical in a literary sense.

And I have to mention the illustrations by Shaun Tan which were whimsical and beautiful and complemented the stories perfectly.

I was aiming to read this for R.I.P. V Challenge but, alas, I couldn’t finish it in time.

Have you read Pretty Monsters? What did you think of it?

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8 Responses to “Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link”

  1. amymckie Says:

    This sounds like an interesting little collection. Too bad it wasn’t what you were expecting, but I’m glad you liked quite a few of the stories at least.

  2. Steph Says:

    I read a Kelly Link collection last year and it was… weird. Some of the stories I really liked, but others simply left me scratching my head. The one I read included The Specialist’s Hat, but I admit I didn’t really get that story at all! I am a big Buffy fan, though, so the story Magic For Beginners definitely sounds like one I want to read!

  3. Eva Says:

    I read one of Link’s story in a short story anthology last year and really loved it! I’ve been meaning to give Pretty Monsters a go since then, and now that I know Shaun Tan did the illustrations I’m even more interested!

  4. Bellezza Says:

    I have to stop at your first comment, where you say that this author is ‘endorsed’ (loved) by Gaiman and Waters: a worthy accolade indeed! It reminded me of when I read that Haruki Murakami’s favorite American authors are Raymond Carver and John Irving. Reason enough for me to revisit Irving; I’ve never read anything by Carver.

    I’m halfway through The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters; I’m really, really enjoying her writing, so I’d probably like this book you’ve reviewed here.

  5. nymeth Says:

    I haven’t read Pretty Monsters, but some of those titles were familiar – I think I’ve come across the stories in anthologies and Link’s other collections. The Faery Handbag is one I remember well, as I found it fascinating! I tend to really enjoy Kelly Link’s stories, but I do need to be in the right sort of mood for them.

  6. Iris Says:

    Ah, I’m going to be the superficial one and admit that I wanted to read this book because of the cover.. Bow that you mention Neil Gaiman and Sarah Waters, I want to read it even more 🙂 I am sorry you did not enjoy it so much though. So I guess it is not moving to the top of my wishlist any time soon.

  7. chasing bawa Says:

    amymckie: Actually I liked more than half so I think it’s pretty good going:)

    Steph: Definitely weird! But that’s not a bad thing as I like weird stories. I think I just didn’t connect with some of them. But the ones I liked were really good.

    Eva: Shaun Tan is an amazing illustrator. Go and read it because I’d like to see what you think of the collection:)

    Bellezza: I LOVE Sarah Waters’ writing. But this collection is quite different in style and content, but definitely give it a try.

    nymeth: I think Link does something quite different in her stories as I haven’t read that much that is similar to hers. So I’m kind of looking forward to other stuff she’s written.

    Iris: I think it’s probably to do with the mood I was in or my expectations. I do find that often affects how I read. So it isn’t surprising if you come across books that don’t quite fit the mood. It is subjective after all, isn’t it?

  8. novelinsights Says:

    Hi Sakura, It is a bizarre collection of stories, isn’t it!? I also liked the Faery Handbag and found The Specialist’s Hat chilling, but unlike you really didn’t like (or maybe just didn’t get) The Constable of Abal. Definitely a mind-bending read though!


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