Dylan Thomas Prize Blog Tour: Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan

It’s an honour to be kicking off the official Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize 2020* blog tour with a post introducing and giving an excerpt from one of this year’s longlisted titles, the short story collection Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan.

Many of these 20 stories twist fairy tale imagery into nightmarish scenarios, enumerating fears of bodies and pregnancies going wrong. Body parts are offered as tokens of love or left behind as the sole evidence of an abduction. Ghosts and corpses are frequent presences. I also recognized some of the same sorts of Celtic sea legends that infuse Logan’s debut novel, The Gracekeepers.

Some stories are divided into multiple parts by headings or point-of-view changes. Others are in unusual formats like footnotes, a questionnaire, bullet-pointed lists, or a couple’s contrasting notes on house viewings. The titles can be like mini-tales in their own right, e.g. “Girls Are Always Hungry when All the Men Are Bite-Size” and “The Only Thing I Can’t Tell You Is Why.”

In between the stories are italicized passages that seem to give context on Logan’s composition process, including her writing retreat in Iceland – but it turns out that this is a story, too, split into pieces and shading from autobiography into fiction.

Full of magic realism and gentle horror, this is a book for fans of Salt Slow and The Doll’s Alphabet.

My favourite story was “Things My Wife and I Found Hidden in Our House,” about a series of objects Rain and her wife Alice find in the derelict house Alice’s granny has left them. Here’s an excerpt from the story to whet your appetite:


 

  1. A KNIFE

I wasn’t surprised when Alice and I found the long thin silver knife wrapped in blackened grot beneath the floorboards. It wasn’t easy: to find it we’d had to pull up just about every rotting, stinking board in the house, our hands slick with blood and filth. Alice had told me that a silver knife through the heart is the only way to kill a kelpie, so if Alice’s gran really had killed it, the knife was likely to be there somewhere. Her mistake, her haunting, was in keeping the thing. As proof? A memento? We’d never know. Then again, we knew that her bathtub drowning was due to a stroke. So I guess you can never really know anything.

Alice and I gathered up the ring and the paper and the horse and the pearls and the hair and the glass jar and the knife, and we put them all in a box. We drove for hours until we got to the coast, to the town where Alice’s gran and her grandad and the first wife had all lived, and we climbed to the highest cliff and we threw all the things into the sea.

Together we drove back to the house, holding hands between the front seats. A steady calm grew in our hearts; we knew that it was over, that we had cleansed the house and ourselves, that we had proven women’s love was stronger than women’s hate.

 

  1. MORE

Approaching the front door, key outstretched, hands still held, hearts grown sweet, Alice and I stopped. Our hands unlinked. The doorknob was wrapped all around with layers of long black hair.

 


My thanks to Midas PR for the free copy for review, and to Harvill Secker for permission to reprint an excerpt.

 

*The Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize recognizes the best published work in the English language written by an author aged 39 or under. All literary genres are eligible, so there are poetry collections nominated as well as novels and short stories. The other 11 books on this year’s longlist are:

  • Surge, Jay Bernard
  • Flèche, Mary Jean Chan (my review)
  • Exquisite Cadavers, Meena Kandasamy
  • Black Car Burning, Helen Mort
  • Virtuoso, Yelena Moskovich
  • Inland, Téa Obreht
  • Stubborn Archivist, Yara Rodrigues Fowler (my review)
  • If All the World and Love Were Young, Stephen Sexton
  • The Far Field, Madhuri Vijay
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
  • Lot, Bryan Washington

 

The official blog tour runs this month and into April, with multiple bloggers covering each book. At the end of March, I’ll also be reviewing the poetry collection by Stephen Sexton.

14 responses

  1. I love this longlist – a shout out for Obreht, plus lots of books I want to read – Mort, Fowler, Logan, Kandasamy, Vijay.

    I feel like the story you posted an excerpt from starts from a very similar place to one of the stories in Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties – ‘Inventory’?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember “Inventory” being one of the standouts for me in that collection — I guess it shows you my taste 🙂 The Machado would be another good readalike for this book in general.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gentle horror? Is that a thing?! That excerpt in itself unnerved me, so possibly not one for me (runs screaming from the book). Obviously creative and inventive, however, and will find lots of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, no real gore anyway, but some spooky stuff. I so rarely read horror that maybe I wouldn’t recognize it when I see it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds right up my street Rebecca and I hadn’t heard much about it before it was shortlisted. I’m definitely going to check this out, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hurrah — delighted to make a convert!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My kinda short stories book I think – I didn’t realise it was so stylised. The whole sounds just brilliant. I shall look out for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of stylish and experimental writing on this year’s longlist, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m reading and reviewing this too. “Gentle horror”! Really? I wouldn’t want to read anything that you’d classify as straight-up horror.

    Like

    1. Like I say … my experience with horror is limited! I guess I’m imagining it in comparison to James Herbert or Stephen King (who I’ve not read).

      Like

      1. I haven’t read those either, I don’t really like horror but found the book quite disturbing at times. More intense because the terrain is familiar.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Good point. Maybe introducing these hints of the unexplained into everyday life is even scarier in a way,

      Like

      1. I thought so, yes.

        Liked by 1 person

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