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Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard. Virago, 2020.
First published in magazines in the 1959 and 1974, together with some unpublished stories found after her death, this volume reflects for me a particular point in time in respect of the relations between the sexes, when the ‘permissive society’ was perhaps beginning to manifest itself, and the individual consciousnesses of female protagonists were being brought more to the fore. The stories are principally about relations between people – often transitory – an affair between a teenager and a married man, a collection of travellers dining together in a Tuscan idyll, unexpectedly impressed by a gauche young man’s poetry, a walk in a hot desert island by a couple whose formal relationship we do not quite get to see clearly, and nor do they! Shirley Hazzard writes of love, its manifestations in hesitations, miscommunications, in its moments. Several of the stories feature people out of their normal milieu or somehow jerked out of normality by a meeting or an encounter by travel or a new environment. A few stories are set in an unnamed but clearly significantly large multicultural organisation and she is clever at portraying the niceties and frustrations of organisational life, its ability to squash the individual and yet at the same time provide scope for exercising ambition in control over others. This is a collection which is a joy to read, the writing is limpid, often sensitively poetic, like seeing a piece of jewellery in an unexpected light, revealing new facets. This is a volume to revisit over time.
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