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Review: Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories - Kelly Barnhill

Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy/Magical Realism Published: Algonquin Books, February 2018 My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

"It is our flaws that make us beloved by heaven. It is our scars and handicaps and lack of symmetry that prove that we are-or once were-alive."

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories drew my attention with its stunning cover and the promise of whimsically dark stories, with more than just surface level themes. With 8 short stories and a novella, this was also a perfect introduction to Kelly Barnhill’s writing for me. Shortstory-collections are always a little difficult to review for me. I tend to judge the stories individually, but also try to say something about the overall feel and coherence of the collection. The latter was great in the case of Dreadfull Young Ladies. The collection has a very distinct, fairytale-esque quality to it, and is thematically and atmospherically coherent. The writing is quite simple, but the imagery Barnhill evokes with her writing is beautiful enough, that it doesn’t need anymore lyricism. The quote mentioned above being a perfect example of that. The stories themselves were a little mixed for me: some of them worked really well, others fell a little flat for me personally. My favorites were Open the Door and The Light Pools In, The Taxidermists Other Wife and The Unlicensed Magician. Below, you can find my rating per story, as well as a short description as written by the author.

  • Mrs Sorensen and the Sasquatch: 2/5 stars When Mrs. Sorensen’s husband dies, she rekindles a long-dormant love with an unsuitable mate

  • Open the Door and the Light Pools in: 4/5 stars a young man wrestles with grief and his sexuality in an exchange of letters with his faraway beloved.

  • A Dead Boys Last Poem: 3/5 stars

  • Dreadful Young Ladies: 3/5 stars about the strength and power—known and unknown—of the imagination

  • The Taxidermists other Wife: 4/5 stars

  • Elegy to Gabrielle: 3/5 stars

  • Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake: 2/5 stars a witch is haunted by the deadly repercussions of a spell.

  • The Insect and the Astronomer: 2/5 stars upends expectations about good and bad, knowledge and ignorance, love and longing.

  • The Unlicenced Magician: 4/5 stars introduces the secret magical life of an invisible girl once left for dead—with thematic echoes of The Girl Who Drank The Moon.

When tallied up they score 3.1 stars on average, which fits my feeling about the collection as a whole pretty well. Although not a bad rating at all, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed, as I was really hoping to love this. Possible factors that hindered my enjoyment were the fact that I haven’t had much time to read recently, and therefore may have been rushed a little whilst reading it. If I could give you one piece of advice before picking this up, it’s that this is a collection to savour, not to devour. Taking your time to let the stories sink in will probably really help get the most out of them.

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