This is Kirsty Logan’s debut short story collection, winning the Scott Prize in 2013. Many of the stories are re-tellings of recognisable fairy tales; others are new fables that have a lovely quality of feeling old, like they were always there. Some are brief flash fictions, others are longer short stories. There’s also a real breadth of style in this collection – from steampunk to lyrical realism. Because of the variety, it wasn’t completely cohesive, and a couple of the stories felt out of place. But I often find one or two stories in a collection don’t really do it for me anyway, so it didn’t detract from the whole.
Love, particularly replacements/substitutions for missing love, and lust thread through the collection. A few of the stories are quite sexual, but without tipping over into voyeuristic eroticism. Others deal with the pain of missing or lost love, using steampunk technology (as in the title story, The Rental Heart, and Coin-Operated Boy) or folded paper (in Orgami) to replace it, or by chasing ghosts (in Girl #18). Many of the stories are about gay relationships, but it felt like the focus was on the story/emotions, rather than the fact that it was two women, which I really liked. The stories are all very readable, but the language is simply poetic in places, with beautiful and unusual description.
I like to read story collections in bits, one story every so often, because I think each story should be given its own space – you can’t read a collection like a novel as the stories either blur into one another or it’s difficult to move quickly from one headspace to the next. But it was so tempting to keep reading just one more. An excellent collection.