The Rental Heart and other fairy tales by Kirsty Logan

Salt, 2014, 153 p.

Within this collection are twenty stories of varying length but none could be said to outstay their welcome. Logan’s inspiration here is clearly derived from fairy tales; but only one of them, the last, begins with “Once upon a time.” Apart from the usual admonitory accounts, some are celebratory and some have tints of magic realism. In general Logan’s writing here is more satisfactory and tighter than in her two novels The Gracekeepers and The Gloaming. Then again it ought to be. In a short story no word should be wasted.

The Rental Heart revolves around the renting of clockwork hearts easily returned to the rental place when they get broken, as hearts always do.
Underskirts has no fewer than ten narrators in its eleven pages each adding their own perspective to the tale of the local Lady who has a taste for young girls from the neighbourhood.
In A Skulk of Saints Lauren works as a medic “peering at the insides of people” in a hospital under the gaze of representations of saints, while in her personal life negotiating her relationship with heavily pregnant partner Hope.
The Last 3,600 Seconds is the stream of consciousness of a woman whose memories crowd in on her during the last ever 3,600 seconds of the universe.
The Broken West is the story of two unusually close brothers searching for their father through a series of dead-beat US towns.
Bibliophagy features a man struggling to conceal from his family his addiction to eating words, words which, like an alcoholic with booze, he hides in various locations.
Coin-Operated Boys are clockwork male escorts hired out from a shop called A Man for All Seasons. Set in Paris, the story has a fin-de-siècle feel.
Girl #18 is the latest to offer sympathy after our narrator’s sister has died.
In Una and Coll are not Friends the pair are put in a room separate from their peers to sit a maths test. Una is distracted by Coll’s tail. She herself has antlers.
In a water-drowned world The Gracekeeper tends to her charges, the Graces of the title, kept in cages. Logan expanded this tale into her first novel.
Sleeping Beauty is a taut tale of sexual assault; told backwards.
In Witch a young girl goes into the woods to spook her friend and meets BabaYaga.
Barely over a page long, All the Better to Eat You With is a kind of Little Red Riding Hood in reverse, a warning to look out for yourself.
The Man from the Circus rather literalises the metaphor of taking a leap into the unknown. A girl allows herself to be picked up by a man from the circus, a trapeze artist.
Feeding is set in the Australian outback where a couple have set up home, soon after they have lost an expected child. The woman spends her time obsessively in the garden but in the drought conditions nothing will grow.
Momma Grows a Diamond is written as one fragment each from the life of a girl at age ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen, as she becomes a woman. Her mother, who provides services for wounded soldiers, tries to turn her into a diamond so that she will not be broken by men.
Less than a page long, The Light Eater has a titular character who begins to consume light bulbs as a means to guide a lost lover back home.
Matryoshka riffs on Cinderella. Its narrator is the prince’s sister, who loves her servant Matryoshka, the one who sees to her whims day and night and sews her slippers for the great ball.
In Origami a woman whose partner works on the rigs assuages her loneliness by making a man out of folded paper.
Tiger Palace explicitly plays with the conventions of story telling as a (female) traveller works her way through the “impenetrable” forest to the Empress’s palace and finds there no crocodiles disguised as stepping stones for crossing the moat and no tigers inside the palace. Both characters refuse their allotted roles.

Pedant’s corner:- The title page reads “The Rental Heart and other stories” (The book cover has ‘The Rental Heart and other fairy tales’.) More than a few Usian usages. “Before the Resting party arrive” (arrives,) fit (fitted.)

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