Book review: The Darkness of Wallis Simpson

By Rose Tremain
Published by Vintage

Synopsis: Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman for whom Edward Vlll abdicated in 1936, ended her life as the prisoner of her lawyer who would not allow anyone - friend, foe or journalist - to visit her in her Paris flat. Rose Tremain takes this true story and transforms it into an imaginative and ironic fiction. Her thesis is that Wallis, gaga and bed-ridden, has forgotten the king who gave up an empire for love of her. 

The other stories in this magnificent collection range over a variety of themes, equally original and unexpected. An East German border guard, redundant after the Berlin Wall comes down in 1989, imagines that he might still have a purpose in life: he tries to reach Russia by bicycling across the hostile wastes of Poland. A jilted man gets his revenge. A baby grows wings. A character in an Impressionist painting escapes from his 'frame' - or does he? And there's a Christmas story set in a seedy hotel…

How did this book end up in my hands? I was looking for a shorter audiobook and this – at less than 6 hours I believe – was my choice, having been intrigued by the title.

Was it a page-turner? This is a book of short stories and I was able to listen to each one in one sitting. In fact, sometimes I listened to more than one in one sitting. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a page-turner though. The stories were so heavy with melancholy that I couldn’t have listened to all of them without taking a break.

Three words to describe it. Sad. Surreal. Bitter.

Do I like the cover? Yes, the cover – along with the title – is what first attracted me to this book.

Have I read any other books by the same author? No, but quite a few of her books are on my wish list.

Will I be recommending this book? Probably to selected people. Short stories are not everyone’s cup of tea – and neither is the ‘tragic and weird’ kind of feeling, which I think is a common thread here. I would go as far as to say that I don’t generally like short stories (and I initially thought this was a novel) and I am also not drawn to hopelessly dark narratives but not even once did I contemplate not finishing this book.

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