Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay

Picador, 2012, 248 p.

 Reality, Reality cover

The title of this second collection of Jackie Kay’s short stories reflects the contents. Most of the stories have shifting perspectives or protagonists who are unsure of their surroundings. All are very well written.

Reality, Reality is a stream of consciousness narration by a woman who is attempting to reach the final of a TV cookery competition, or thinks she is.
Another stream of consciousness, These are not my Clothes is told from the point of view of an inmate in a care home – who is not receiving very good care. The title is a phrase she keeps repeating to the nurses who dress her. Her only confidante is the part-time cleaner Vadnie.
From its first sentence I could sense from the way it is written that The First Lady of Song is a piece of Science Fiction; which is what, indeed, it is. It is narrated by a female singer, who centuries ago, was drugged by her father with a potion that meant she would not die. Her performing names always start with the letter ‘E’ – Elina, Eugenia, Ekateriana, Elisabeth, Ella, Emilia. The only change over time is that her skin darkens. Kay doesn’t bring much that is conceptually new to the old SF chestnut of the life eternal but she does write it well.
In The Pink House a heavily pregnant woman – also heavily debt-ridden – finds refuge in the house that Elisabeth Gaskell once lived in.
Grace and Rose is the story of the first lesbian wedding in Shetland, told by both its principals. A joyous tale of love and fulfilment.
In Bread Bin the narrator’s grandmother tells her she has never had an orgasm – but always had a clean bread bin. The narrator is similarly starved of sexual ecstasy; till the age of forty-nine.
Doorstep sees Cheryl decide to spend Christmas on her own; to the displeasure of her latest girl-friend Sharon.
Hadassah is a retelling of the Moses story, updated to feature a young refugee, Hadassah, who becomes the King’s eyes and ears. The King is running a people-trafficking and prostitution operation.
Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, The White Cot features two women in a holiday let picking at the cracks in their relationship. One had wanted a child, the other hadn’t. The white cot in their room becomes the material focus for the first’s longings.
In Mind Away the narrator’s mother is gradually losing her memories and thoughts. Together they seek out the doctor into whose head the thoughts have gone.
Two girls who were on holiday together aged ten and nine the year their parents swapped partners, forever after call themselves Barn and Tawny due to witnessing the activities of an Owl.
In The Last of the Smokers two life-long friends contemplate giving up by comparing smoking to ex-lovers.
A woman seeks to find the Mini Me inside her by dint of dieting. Repeatedly.
Mrs Vadnie Marleen Sevlon (the same Vadnie as in These are not my Clothes) took the title Mrs as she thought I it would engender respect. She also invents a husband and children for herself reflecting that, ‘Only people with money have choice.’
The Winter Visitor appears to our narrator every so often without fanfare, taking over her life, until vanishing again as mysteriously.

Pedant’s corner:- “like she is tossing a ball” (as if she is tossing a ball,) “the river Mersey” (river here is a proper noun, so River Mersey,) “and, and” (only one ‘and’ needed, no comma required.) “None of them have” (strictly ‘none of them has’ but it was in the narrator’s voice so perhaps true to that,) “coming forth to carry me home” (I had always thought the words from Swing Low, Sweet Chariot were ‘coming for to carry me home’ and it seems that is indeed the case (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_Low,_Sweet_Chariot#Traditional_lyrics)) homeopaths (homoeopaths, please; or even homœopaths,) “I clamour through” (it was through a window, so ‘clamber’,) sprung (sprang,) edidn’t (didn’t,) “as if it was the scene a crime I had committed” (scene of a crime I had committed,) doubt (a cigarette end is spelled dout,) lasagne (lasagne. Narrator’s spelling? Or author’s?) “‘could of’” (could have; but this was in dialogue.)

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