A wonderful new collection of short stories, most of which are published here for the first time.
Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman for whom Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, ended her life (as the Duchess of Windsor) as the prisoner of her lawyer who would not allow anyone — friend, foe or journalist — to visit her in her Paris flat. Rose Tremain takes this true story and transforms it into an imaginative and ironic fiction. Her thesis is that Wallis, gaga and bed-ridden, had forgotten the king who gave up an empire for love of her.
This superb story plays with the selectiveness of memory: why does Wallis recall the seemingly unimportant, while forgetting the glory days of her notoriety? She can remember her first two husbands — one a bit of a brute, the other very boring — but not the world-famous third one.
The other stories in this magnificent collection range over a variety of themes, equally original and unexpected: an East German border guard, redundant after the Berlin Wall comes down in 1989, imagines that he might still have a purpose in life. He tries to reach Russia by bicycling across the hostile wastes of Poland. A jilted man gets his revenge. A baby grows wings. A character in an Impressionist painting escapes from his “frame” — or does he? And there’s a Christmas story set in a seedy hotel.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
the Sorbonne and is a graduate of the University of East Anglia, where she went on to teach creative writing between 1988 and 1995.
Her first novel, Sadler's Birthday, was published in 1976 and Granta selected her as one of its 'Best of Young British Novelists' in 1983. She has gone on to become a prolific writer of fiction including drama and short stories broadcast on Radio 3 and Radio 4 and is the winner of numerous literary awards, including the Whitbread Novel Award, which she won in 1999 for Music and Silence, and the Dylan Thomas Short Story Award. Her novel Restoration was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was made into a film in 1996.
She is currently working on her next novel, The Road Home, the story of Lev, an Eastern European immigrant struggling to make his way in London, due to be published by Chatto and Windus in 2007.
Rose Tremain lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer Richard Holmes.
Reading Group Guide
1. How do you think having a real-life historical figure as the central character in The Darkness of Wallis Simpson sets it apart from the other stories in collection? What might the author have found constraining in writing about a real character? What might she have found inspiring? Are there ethical problems with fictionalising the lives of real people?
2. Consider the themes of aging, death and afterlife as they are explored in the collection. Is their any unity in Tremain's vision? Is it unremittingly bleak?
3. Several stories focus on an apparently random object which becomes imbued with meaning for its owner. Think about the bracelet in The Darkness of Wallis Simpson, the lemon in The Beauty of the Dawn Shift, the oyster shell in Nativity Story. Can you think of any others? What do you think they symbolise?
4. Do you think that a short-story writer has an easier or a more difficult task than a novelist? Compare Tremain's novel-writing with her short-story writing. Can you spot any differences between the two genres in terms of her choice of style, structure and subject matter?
5. Look at the way Tremain uses humour in her writing (The Ebony Hand, Moth and The Cherry Orchard, with Rugs are all particularly interesting to look at here). Do the moments of comedy alleviate the sombre tone of the stories, or merely underline the essential tragedy of her characters' situations?
6. Do you agree with Tremain's view that the best writers are those who are able to 'comprehend experience distant from their own in nature, place and time'? Would you say that the stories in The Darkness of Wallis Simpson are a successful example of such an imaginative leap?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a wonderful book and the title story is an absolutely fascinating look at the last days of the Duchess of Windsor's life as she lay in a coma, aided by the evil Maitre Blum. Every story in this book is exquisite. I just discovered this author (like Alan Bennett) and cannot wait to read more.
This is the first time that I have read short stories by Rose Tremain and I was amazed at her skill in this difficult form of prose. "The Darkness of Wallis Simpson" is the longest story and appears to have been first published in this book. It is the story of the heartbreaking emotional war between the dying and demented Simpson and her possessive and controlling lawyer. The remaining stories are a delight. This is a very readable book, I finished it in an evening.
Some authors were made to write novel-length prose. Some were born to write words in short story chunks. Then there are those who manage to do both well. I'm not sure which categorisation Rose Tremain would fit in - if one would even dare to do so - but let me take a gamble: I have a sneaking suspicion she belongs in the first category.Having won the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 1996 for Music and Silence and received praising reviews for her latest novel, The Colour, Rose Tremain is undeniably a good novelist. It was with this knowledge I armed myself with before expecting to enjoy her latest collection of twelve short stories, The Darkness of Wallis Simpson.The title story imagines the last years of Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American who King Edward VIII abdicated for in 1936. Tremain takes this true story and spins it into a tale filled with whimsy and irony. Wallis Simpson is dying but why can she only remember her first two husbands - one abusive the other kind yet boring - but not her third, world-famous husband? Her lawyer, Maitre Suzanne Blum, forces her to remember but it only ends in frustration: "Wallise! Talk to me. Don't pretend anymore. Pretence is so ungrateful! He gave up an Empire for you. An Empire! And you pretend to remember nothing. But I 'ave sworn to myself I shall not rest, I shall not return to my legal practice nor go again into the world until you admit to me that do remember."The other stories take their cue from the initial story and continue the theme of loss, divorce, family, longing, etc. such as in "The Beauty of the Dawn Shift", concerning a guard on the east side of the Berlin Wall finding the familiarity of the old regime threatened by the looming threat of capitalism when Germany reunites. He cycles across a wintery Poland hoping to find his past in Russia: "Since childhood, he'd admired the stern ways of his country, and he hoped to find these still prevailing in Russia." This story, along with some of the other stories, like "The Ebony Hand" about a spinster who has to take care of her niece; "The Over-Ride", about a man who as a child, loved to sit outside an apartment of a musician couple; and "Moth", about a baby who grows wings, are the ones that make the book worth a read.The other stories seem only to act as filler, and are oft times uninspired and meandering. In "Nativity Story", her annoying use of adverbs even mars the story flow:"'Oh, nothing,' he said vaguely. 'She's just having her baby.''Having her what?' I said stupidly."Ultimately though, it is Rose Tremain's ability to weave wonderful prose about the fragility of the human condition - frequently taking place in an understated historical moment in time - that manage to make this collection worth at least a read.