Diving Belles by Lucy Wood is being compared to Angela Carter, and I'm not getting the connection. This is a collection of stories with magical elements--two kids explore the graveyard where bones of giants make a macabre playground; an elderly woman is given the chance to dive down under the sea to see if she can find her long-missing husband, lured away by merpeople; mysterous hounds roam the moors.
But Carter's stories, at least the ones I've read, have a much darker edge to them, almost hallucinatory at times, and much more gripping. Wood is a talented writer, and she's dead-on in approaching her magical stories by grounding them in as much realistic detail as possible, and beautiful detail at that. But too many of the stories seem to be vignettes rather than fully fleshed out tales. I found myself wanting more actual plot, rather than just evocative descriptions of setting. Occasionally I was frustrated by a story that seemed about to take off, only to end where I thought it was finally beginning.
Not all the stories are like that. The best one in the book is Notes from the House Spirits, told in the plural first person by long-time tenant spirits of a house who collectively remember the house's history and inhabitants. Wood skillfully shows the reader who the human inhabitants are and what their lives are like, even though the narrators themselves don't understand the human condition. The story doesn't necessarily have a lot of plot, but it does have movement, and it's also touching.
This is Wood's first published book, and while I felt it was hit-and-miss, the quality of the writing is such that I'd keep an eye out for her next book. In the meantime, the reminder about Angela Carter inspired me to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time: order her collected stories. Halloween is coming soon, after all.