Reviewed by Katy Oâ€™Dowd
Rachel Kendallâ€™s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ is a collection of twenty three short stories, dripping with darkness, oozing with venom, surrealism and existentialism. She writes like a dream, but reading this will leave you emerging into the light again afterwards, blinking and thinking â€“ much like going to see a really good, if really strange movie in the daytime.
The stories include:
‘I Know You’, where a hooker gets more than she bargained for. Perverse pleasure seekers seek their Unholy Grail in 51 Weeks, while Sarah is not afraid of the big bad wolf in ‘Eat Me, Eat Me’.
The highly disturbing ‘This Is Not Kansas’ features experiments in infancy, and ‘Axis’ is the story of the aftermath of postnatal depression.
‘Solid Gold’ provides a bit of light relief, where a woman steps out of her perfectly ordered world. Poor Raynard meets a sticky end when a fly bests him in ‘Fly’, and’ The Pleasure Principle’ is about Empath-e â€“ the perfect recreational device: fun, safe and socially unacceptable in the most acceptable way.
‘Penny Whistle’ is the star of the freak show, while an artist searches for the perfect specimen for the most perfect picture in ‘Still Life’.
‘Sweetmeats’ shows us a niece whose love for her uncle shows no bounds, and in’ Le Cafe Curieux’ – my favourite story in the collection â€“ patrons get much more than they bargain for in such a place with a dubious past.
As mentioned above, Rachel Kendall writes like a dream. But this is a dark, dark, dark book, visceral, letâ€™s make no bones about it, which makes for very uncomfortable reading at times. Perhaps itâ€™s a good thing, to step out of the norm and be challenged, to see, really see, the seedy, sick underbelly of society. And she does it well, very well, without going over the top or lingering unnecessarily, with perfect prose and a great depth to her description.
However, the stories including babies and mothers made me very uncomfortable. Maybe thatâ€™s just me, and it shouldnâ€™t put you off. And while I didnâ€™t like those particular stories, I did like the other ones. Maybe itâ€™s because they were quite so primal, maybe Iâ€™m a bit more of a wuss than I thought.
If you like your fiction black-as-an-unlit-night dark, youâ€™ll love ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’. A haunting, thought-provoking read.