Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell

If there is a more intriguing title out there than St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, well, I'd love to hear it, but I'd also be surprised by it's very existence! When I saw the spine of this book in the shop I couldn't resist picking it up. It's a collection of short stories, and one of the review quotes on the back cover mentions Angela Carter, who is one of my favourite writers. I took it straight up to the till. It took me a few months to finish, as with all short story books. I started reading it when I was reading a novel that was too large to cart around on the tube and it made a great travel read, as it's quite slim and easy to slip into.

The stories are not connected but what they do have in common is their magical realist atmosphere and quirky settings. Most of the stories draw on mythological or supernatural ideas and almost all the narrators or protagonists are teenagers, predominantly boys, but there are a few girls, most notably in the title story.

As I've written before in other reviews, I have issues with short stories and novels which feel like snapshots of a character's life rather than complete stories in their own right. I can't say that I didn't have issues with the abrupt endings of some of the stories in St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, but Karen Russell's imagination is so fantastic and her ideas are so interesting that I didn't mind that much.
My favourite story was the title story, 'St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves', which is about a pack of girls, the human children of werewolves, who have been sent by their parents into the care of a group of nuns, who give them new names and try to teach them to behave as humans are supposed to. I also loved  'Z.Z.'s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers', about children with both magical and non-magical sleep issues, and 'from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration', which is narrated by a boy whose father is a Minotaur. 

I won't say anymore because at least half the fun of reading these stories comes from discovering the details! I would like to read more of Karen Russell's work, but her novel, Swamplandia! is based on one of the stories that I wasn't quite as keen on, so I might skip that and go straight to Vampires in the Lemon Grove, her second short story collection.

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