London Under Snow is a delicate, compact, mature and profound collection of short stories about winter by Jordi Llavina. Six fragments of different lives in six different moments. In this beautifully written collection, the characters come face to face with their different lives and pasts, all of which are full of ghosts and memories. Sensibility courses through each story, all of them written with a meticulous eye to detail and a careful lyricism that pays tribute to the human condition and the society that we have created.
Bringing winter and Christmas celebrations in a variety of places and cultures to life in a selection of beautifully written short stories, Llavina mixes personal experiences with fictional characters to blur the lines between fiction and reality.
I always struggle with how to review a collection of short stories because to include sufficiently meaningful reflections on each one risks not only revealing spoilers, but also an over-long review! So, I’ve decided to concentrate my reflections on what it was about the author’s approach to his storytelling which impressed me so much and made reading this collection so satisfyingly enjoyable.
Although each story has its own distinct quality, they have a number of things in common, apart from the themes mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis. Central to each is an exploration of how individuals navigate their daily lives and cope with whatever challenges they encounter. Without exception, each story is replete with characters whose behaviour is beautifully observed: their relationships, their behaviour, their strengths and their weaknesses, all are treated by the author with an intrinsic respect. I was able to clearly visualise them, to feel engaged with what they were experiencing and to begin to care sufficiently about them to hope they’d find satisfying resolutions.
I felt that the author created a powerful sense of conversational intimacy in each story, drawing me in, compelling me to follow its sometimes-convoluted threads, threads which, however much they appeared to be meandering somewhat aimlessly, always came together in a coherent and satisfying, if not always predictable, way. Scenes were described with an enviable combination of detail and economical precision, so evocatively portrayed that they appeared to leap from the page in three-dimensional form. I loved his descriptions of London (in ‘Hand and Racquet’, his first story) and particularly relished his description of Trafalgar Square: a space ‘presided over by Nelson and his imposing lions – a little fat for my liking …’ Not only was I immediately able to visualise said lions, I was reminded that I’ve always shared his view of their corpulence! The fact that he was able to poke such gentle fun at one of the city’s ‘sacred-cows’ had endeared him to me by the end of the second page of the story, immediately making me feel sure that I’d continue to find much to savour in his observations!
I enjoyed the author’s gentle pacing of his stories, his judicious use of metaphors and his lyrical, eloquent prose. Although a sense of melancholy infuses much of his storytelling, as I’ve just indicated, there are some instances of delicious humour and moments when he gently mocks some of the absurdities of the human condition!
The synopsis mentions that he ‘mixes personal experiences with fictional characters to blur the lines between fiction and reality’, something which, in less assured hands, could have been a distraction. I was interested that he addressed this directly in one of his stories, when the writer of the story asks a character for her opinion on something he’s written, but is unsure about:
‘Do you like it?’
‘Yes, I do. But is it all true, what you’re writing? Was she really like that?’
‘In a story,’ he replies, ‘everything, absolutely everything is true. Didn’t you know? The moment you tell it, it becomes real, and not only that, it becomes true. It all ends up as being true.’
For me this exchange encapsulates something intrinsic to good storytelling and how successful the author was in ensuring that at no point did I ever feel distracted by attempting to separate fact from fiction!
This review would not be complete without mentioning Douglas Settle, who translated this wonderful collection, making it available to those of us who don’t speak Spanish!
With my thanks to the publisher and NB for sending me a copy in exchange for an unbiased review.
Review by Linda Hepworth
Personal read: 5*
Group read: 3*
London Under Snow by Jordi Llavina
Fum d’Estampa Press Ltd 15th October 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9162939-6-0 Paperback