Our second book in the 'First impressions' series of posts is a collection of short stories: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, a "luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut".
"Along Cornwall's ancient coast, the flotsam and jetsam of the past becomes caught in the cross-currents of the present and, from time to time, a certain kind of magic can float to the surface ...
Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true - provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager's growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door.
In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers' lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea."
I've read several stories to get a feel for the book, firstly Diving Belles itself, in which a woman goes to great lengths - or rather, depths - to be re-united with her husband; then Notes from the House Spirits, which shows that a home is far more than just four walls; and then Of Mothers and Little People which includes the great line "You have always believed in fate, picturing it as a fairy godmother labouring over a huge timetable".
These and others transpose traditional myth and legend to a contemporary setting, giving an effect as of curiously beguiling dislocation, a type of cultural mis-step or syncopation, original and intriguing. Here is a voice which catches your attention; it's one of subtle detachment but distinctive emphasis, and though I'd intended to read only a story or two and leave the rest for later, I'm minded now to carry on and finish the book today - it's matter-of-fact other-worldliness has quite drawn me in.
One last thing, I must mention the lovely jacket, designed by Holly Macdonald.
Edited to add: you can read one of the stories from the collection here.