Jigs & Reels: Like a box of chocolates, a fun collection of treats

Jigs & Reels by Joanne Harris science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsJigs & Reels by Joanne Harris science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsJigs & Reels by Joanne Harris

It’s always fascinating to read short stories written by your favourite author. Without the luxury of a longer page-count, they’re forced to hone their craft and get out of their comfort zone, and often some of their best work can be found in the short story format. Besides which, a lot can be said with just a few words. As Joanne Harris herself points out in her foreword, short stories: “provoke questions, whereas most novels tend to try and answer them.”

Harris is perhaps best known for Chocolat, and most of her novels are so full of sensory description that you can almost see, smell, taste and feel what she’s describing. However, the twenty-two short stories in Jigs & Reels (2004) are more interested in ideas than the five senses, and though they’re quite disparate in content (having been previously published in a range of magazines), there are a couple of recurring themes and subjects: the sexualisation of children and the marginalization of the elderly in particular.

There are retold fairy tales, urban fantasies, a couple of science fiction stories, and even some horror (as she mentions in her foreword, people are so familiar with her as the author of Chocolat that they forget she also wrote The Evil Seed). Each one comes with a brief introduction, in which Harris outlines her inspiration for the tale.

Any fan of Harris will recognize her distinct descriptive style, and there are plenty of weird and wonderful things to discover in these stories: a new perspective on the ugly stepsister, a school reunion for a class of witches, a contemporary little mermaid who gives up her fins for all the wrong reasons, a bizarre cookbook that calls up ungodly spirits, the characters of an unfinished story that eventually come for the author … it’s like a chocolate box of treats.

Published in 2004. Each of the twenty-two tales in this enchanting collection is a surprise and a delight, melding the poignant and the possible with the outrageous, the magical, and, sometimes, the eerily haunting. Wolf men, dolphin women, defiant old ladies, and middle-aged manufacturers of erotic leatherwear — in Jigs & Reels the miraculous goes hand in hand with the mundane, the sour with the sweet, and the beautiful, the grotesque, the seductive, and the disturbing are never more than one step away. Whether she’s exploring the myth of beauty, the pain of infidelity, or the wonder of late-life romance, Joanne Harris once again proves herself a master of the storyteller’s trade.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. Paul Connelly /

    “The characters of an unfinished story that eventually come for the author”…they don’t have names like Jaime, Brienne or Tyrion, do they?
    ;-)

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