Friday, 7 September 2018

'Breath of Life'

The final story of Rosalie Parker's Sparks from the Fire is a tale of a dummy. Tilda is at a car boot sale with some friends when she comes across a shop mannequin, which she buys and takes home. She dubs the dummy Handsome, and buys him some new clothes to replace his threadbare tweeds. Tilda enjoys talking to the dummy, watching the telly with him, and generally makes him part of her life. Then he begins talking to her.

This story reminded me of 'The Smile' by J.G. Ballard, in which a man finds a life-size mannequin in a junk shop. The difference, however, is that instead of the conflict in Ballard's tale Tilda and Handsome become friends. When she hooks up with a 'real' man the dummy is philosophical, pointing out that there are some types of activity he is not equipped for. And when the new boyfriend hears the dummy talking, while his boozy friends don't, the story moves to a different level.

Somewhat reminiscent of Angela Carter, this tale is a fitting end to a book that ranges from conventional supernatural fiction to more ambiguous works. Considered as a whole Sparks from the Fire straddles the territory between mainstream and genre fiction. These stories are messages from a land that is once strange and oddly familiar.

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