Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield (Penguin Little Black Classics No. 72)

In brief: Three short stories reflecting on loneliness, pride and how we isolate ourselves.

The good: A quick read that gives me a taste of a writer I want to read more of.

The not-so-good: It’s quick!

Why I chose it: I’m a sucker for a matching series.

Year: 2015 (original 1922)

Pages: 53

Publisher: Penguin

Setting: England

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Miss Brill is the perfect introduction to Katherine Mansfield if like me; you’re late to reading her great stories. This Penguin Little Black Classic contains three short stories from The Garden Party and Other Stories, first published in 1922. All three stories (Marriage a la Mode, Miss Brill and The Stranger) have a common theme of loneliness, mis-communication and cross purposes about them. Marriage a la Mode is about a wife who has decided to have a little fun with a set of friends whilst her husband trudges on (I’m thinking the Bloomsbury Set here). Miss Brill dusts off her fur and attends a concert each week, but it’s primarily people watching for her…but what do the other attendees think of her? The Stranger is Mrs Hammond, returning from a long time overseas…Mr Hammond thinks that things will be exactly the same as before she left, won’t they?

The stories reflect personal growth in some characters while other characters languish in the past and memories. The stories are beautifully told, I’m always amazed at how a talented short story writer can fit so much plot, characterisation and detail into so few words. I think Katherine Mansfield is one of the best of them. I’m not normally one for short stories, but these are as well characterised and thought provoking as any novel. Despite being written nearly 100 years ago, the prose feels fresh and the ideas expressed modern.

This was definitely worth the $2 and provides more food for thought than any chocolate bar (chocolate being the same price these days). I’ll happily read more Penguin Little Black Classics as they’re a great read over lunch, while waiting for something or as a break from a longer read.

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