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with the permission of the Welsh Books Council. A review from gwales.com
This is an extraordinary collection of short stories written by the Welsh-Jewish author Ruth Joseph. Thoroughly thought-provoking it certainly is, an enjoyable read maybe not, but it is without doubt very readable. The first story, ‘Tapestry’, tells us of a mother’s anguish over the centuries-old Jewish tradition of the circumcision of her newly-born son – graphic, sometimes heart-rending, sometimes heart-warming.
Throughout this collection there are remarkably illuminating passages. Joseph’s use of language is both eloquent and productive. In 'Red Stilettos', the title story, she tells us in the first person of a sous-chef’s ‘trial’ coming new into the kitchen. The chef takes delight in provoking her: ‘Chef tastes my nervousness. Then sniffs the scent like a dog and plans his strategy.’ Further in the story she writes: ‘He crept onto his knees and I watched his disgusting body crawl to the front door, over the beautiful Victorian tiles I had taken so long to restore.’ Such is Joseph’s descriptive prowess that we are there with her, stomach churning.
Joseph’s choice of subject matter is no doubt influenced by the experiences of her youth. Her mother was anorexic and Joseph was her carer; life could not have been easy. In her penultimate story, ‘Patchwork’, she gives a no-holds-barred insight into the depths of despair and depravity that affliction can bring to the sufferer. ‘The pieces of meat in the dog’s bowl lie calling me. I take the bowl and force the greasy pieces of meat into my mouth.’
This is not a book for the faint-hearted, but to put it back on the shelf unread would not only be cowardly. In my opinion, you would have missed reading one of the decade’s finest descriptive narratives.