What do you do when someone else’s past forces itself on your own life? Sorting through the piles left behind by a grandmother who was both a stage magician and a hoarder, Persephone Aim finds a magical artefact from World War II that has shaped her family’s history. Faced with her mother’s desperate attempt to take the artefact for herself, Persephone must decide whether to hold onto the past – or use it to reshape her future.
As a child Persephone had loved being allowed to explore her grandmother Gloria’s labyrinthine home. It was an amalgam of three houses which had acquired various additions and extensions over the years, thus providing a magical fascination for a young child. One of her grandmother’s favourite expressions was “carpe glitter” and that shiny glitter, so redolent of her stage persona, was one of the things Persephone remembered best about her. However, at home she was a “grubby hoarder”, never throwing anything away, instead piling things up, in an apparently random fashion, to fill every room. It is only when Persephone inherits the house and begins sorting through decades of accumulated possessions, that she realises what a daunting task she has taken on. If she was being honest she was looking for treasure, but what she was finding was mostly worthless, much of it so old that it fell apart as she handled it, and even the things which held sparkling promise were turning out to be of little value.
However, one intriguing object she does find during her first week in the house is a metal hand; fully-articulated and finely engraved with a pattern of swastikas and lightning bolts, it both fascinates and disturbs her. What is it? What is its significance? Why is her mother so desperate to gain possession of it? Little does Persephone realise that it holds the key to the long-held family secrets which have shaped her history, and that what she decides to do with it will affect her future.
When I came to the end of this magical mystery story I was left feeling in awe of Cat Rambo’s ability to create, within just fifty-four pages, such a captivating, powerful and multi-layered tale. From the start I felt as though I was accompanying Persephone on her journey of discovery; as she uncovered the secrets of her family history through the layers of her grandmother’s possessions; as she tried to work out the significance of what she was unearthing and then as she faced making decisions about what to do with them. The increasing tension, ghostly creepiness and magical elements were handled in such an assured way that I found myself totally convinced by the unfolding story.
The writing was so evocative that I could almost see the dust and smell the smells which were released as she started on this overwhelming task. I could feel the ancient magazines crumbling as she touched them, feel her horror at the creatures which scurried away as she disturbed their comfortable habitat (my skin actually felt itchy as I was reading!) and could share her moments of despair, when she felt unable to decide which artefacts were significant (or valuable!) enough to keep and which should be rejected. I felt equally caught up in her yearning for answers, in her need to understand how to piece together what had gone before; what she should hold onto from the past and what she needed to relinquish in order to be free to create her own history and to move towards the future.
I found this story a revelatory joy to read and especially loved the various ways in which the author combined numerous fantasy elements and dark humour with an exploration of complex family relationships. In a psychologically convincing way, and with well-depicted characters, she demonstrated how, following a death, secrets will often emerge which enable survivors to make better sense of their history. The story made me reflect on how most of us accumulate possessions which are of particular significance to us, but which are then left to others to dispose of, offering no clues as to why we kept them in the first place! These thought-provoking themes would certainly provide some interesting points for reading group discussions, as would some reflections on the consummate skill of the author in demonstrating, with beautiful, lyrical prose, just how powerful such a short story can be … “carpe glitter” seems to capture my experience of reading this magical piece of work!
Linda Hepworth 5/5
Carpe Glitter by Cat Rambo
Meerkat Shorts 9781946154538 pbk Oct 2019