Title: The Garden Party and Other Stories
Author: Katherine Mansfield
Publisher: Penguin English Library
Date: 2002 (1922)
Genre: Realism / Short stories
Summary: ‘They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it.’ A windless, warm day greets the Sheridan family on the day of their garden party. As daughter Laura takes the reins on party preparations the news of a neighbour’s demise casts a cloud over the host and threatens the entire celebration.
The Garden Party and Other Stories is a short story collection and, usually, I’d review one or two of the stories but I’m just going to review the collection as a whole because it’s pretty cohesive and the quality of writing is similar in all of them. That means this will be a short review.
First published in 1922, The Garden Party is a short story collection that examines themes of life, death, marriage, regret, duty, and gender. Mansfield explores realism and distorted realities, presenting her reader with snapshots of real life that, at times, do not seem completely real. These snapshots are almost dream-like, as if you’re watching a film that is supposed to mimic real life. Some stories are episodic, like At the Bay, and others are continous stories but most of them are written in the modernist mode as the narrative shifts swiftly and there seems to be no set structure. I’m not usually into modernist literature but Mansfield doesn’t write stream of conciousness so I was much more comfortable reading these stories than I expected to be.
I really enjoyed the collection and, although some of the stories seem a little mundane at first glance, I loved Mansfield’s brand of realism in which she ever-so-slightly distorts the reality of her characters as she explores social class, gender roles, death, and isolation. They’re very poignant stories and there’s almost an air of melancholy to them. They’re a little bit sad, just as life is most of the time, and maybe it’s weird that I liked that aspect of the stories but I did.
The writing seems plain and simple at first glance but it’s full of symbolism and imagery. There’s so much hidden beneath the mundane surface and that makes the collection oddly rewarding to read. I felt like I was being invited to analyse the stories by Mansfield even though I was reading the collection for fun and I love how open the stories are to reader interpretation.
Would I recommend this book? I would! I really enjoyed Mansfield’s take on realism and, although a little odd and plain at times, the stories are engaging and entertaining.
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