Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Of Cats and Men: stories by Nina de Gramont

This charming book of short stories is not as naff as it's title would have you think - while cats do feature in each of it's 10 stories, they are diverse and not always cutesy characters. The different dynamics of relationships de Gramont explores through her stories is interesting and makes for quirky, touching narratives that are sometimes devastating, sometimes thoughtful and serene, sometimes painful and always quite raw.

My favourite of the stories was about a pregnant woman who has to deal with her mentally ill brother-in-law's presence at a sensitive time in her life. The tension is palpable; de Gramont's style is simple but effective. I had a pure picture in my head of their mountain home, with it's airy rooms and thin walls throughout. I find short story compilations can sometimes be frustrating to read - as I tend to impatiently plough through them as though devouring a novel, rather than taking each story as it's own whole, seeing it in it's own light. De Gramont has made this easier for those like me - her stories are so different and yet meld seamlessly together through the common element of relationships: feline and otherwise. It does help that I am a cat lover because each cat was infused with delightful character; whether it was disdainful, loyal or pretentious. Different breeds and circumstance showed in the stories an understanding of the dynamic a pet can bring to a person's life. The locations also played a large role in the stories' feel: they were often coastal or mountainous and always influenced or mirrored the tone of the story. There are quaint subtleties in de Gramont's simple observations. She evokes a world of beauty and pain in soft tones, easily read and well-remembered.

I guess the best thing about collections of short stories is that you can often pick it up, read a chapter, and put it down again. Personally I am too eager for that, but if you find you don't have time to read whole novels, this is an alternative with my stamp of approval. Of Cats and Men is darling, sweet, entertaining and sits snugly in my memory, curled up like a sleepy, satisfied kitten.

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