Monday, 23 December 2013

The Man Who Understood Women and other stories (Rosemary Friedman)

--The blurb--
"From the spinsterish librarian who opens the door for her female readers to fulfil their fantasties, through the man whose life is haunted by an adolescent misdemeanour, and a sad, sexually predatory New York millionairess, to the streetwise divorcée who briskly road-tests her internet date, these stories, written over the past 50 years, provide a portrait of women in a rapidly changing world."

--The review--
As something that arose only around the 17th century, short story writing is relatively new compared to play-writing (which goes back to ancient times) and novel-writing (which arguably originated with The Golden Ass, written in 150AD). However, short stories are perhaps the ideal form of entertainment for the world today, particularly when it comes to modern city living. People's lives feel busier than ever as those of working age (particularly women) try to juggle the commitments associated with both careers and children. Just as half-hour television episodes provide an instant half-hour hit of satisfaction, short stories can certainly have the same impact, leaving your mind reeling and your eyes staring into space after reading just one.

Accomplished fiction writer Rosemary Friedman knows this. As well as writing twenty novels over her fifty-year career, she has also made a living writing short stories for newspapers and magazines, which have now been published in The Man Who Understood Women, which proves itself without doubt to be a collection to treasure. While some stories are on the more forgettable side, and others seem to have been written hastily in the last decade to be able to say that the collection definitively covers 50 years (making the earlier stories seem stronger by comparison), there are other stories in the compilation that sear themselves onto the surface of the brain as strongly as any Roald Dahl story.

Friedman employs Dahl's sinister aspect at the end of the eponymous story, which is guaranteed to leave readers open-mouthed and thinking "Did that just end the way I think it did?!" An equally comparable writer is Stella Gibbons, whose short stories mirror Friedman's romantic - and, at times, quietly tragic - tales. Dialogue is deftly and pithily handled and the stories' plots, too, are laudable for their concision and wit.

However, the stories' message transcends their style, as they are vehicles for all kinds of love, constantly confirming (in some stories) and subverting (in others) what we expect from love. Needless to say, fans of Richard Curtis' 2003 film Love Actually will be fans of this patchwork of romances, as both share the similar goals of portraying love stories between all kinds of people, be they friends, family, spouses or others, and be they requited or not. 

Unlike in Love Actually, the stories are not linked plot-wise. However, their chronological sequencing does show a clear evolution (or, indeed, narrative) of women's history and liberation, with the development of women's freedom, strength and destiny being apparent as we read: the 1950s women portrayed in the stories are, naturally, different in outlook to the female characters of the 2000s, thanks inevitably to the societies in which they live. Whether this evolution was a conscious decision on Friedman's part throughout her writing career is not clear - but equally, neither is it particularly important. What results is a delightful collection that deserves multiple rereads, and which proves not only a wonderful introduction to Friedman's work, but also shows that the short story is more relevant than ever in the times in which we live.

other works by Rosemary Friedman
Paris Summer (2004)
Intensive Care (2001)
Vintage (1996)
Golden Boy (1994)
An Eligible Man (1989)
To Live in Peace (1987)
A Second Wife (1986)
Rose of Jericho (1984)
A Loving Mistress (1983)
Proofs of Affection (1982)
The Long Hot Summer (1980)
The Life Situation (1977)
Practice Makes Perfect (1969)
The General Practice (1967)
The Commonplace Day (1964)
The Fraternity (1963)
Patients of a Saint (1960)
We All Fall Down (1960)
Love on my List (1959)
No White Coat (1957) 

No comments: