I’ve read various novellas by Anna Kavan over the years — Ice, Sleep Has His House, and Who Are You? The first two I read a very long time ago, and can remember little about them, although I know they intrigued me enough to continue exploring her work. The last I read only recently, and while it was enjoyable enough, it wasn’t particularly memorable. Still, Kavan continues to interest me, so I thought I’d try this collection of short stories.
The stories reflect in part Kavan’s time in London during World War II, and her work at a psychiatric hospital for soldiers. The stories tend therefore tend to the dark with neurotic. As is often the case with short story collections, some stories are enjoyable, some not so much. In particular, I found this collection slow to start, and it wasn’t until about thirty pages in, with the story “The Blackout”, that I found myself becoming engaged.
Some of the stories are very short, and feel as if they were notes or experiments for her longer works. And certainly, a couple of the stories have thematic similarities — dealing with a shadowy bureaucracy and a delayed and confusing “trial”, reminiscent of The Trial — and I felt these in particular were experiments towards a novel; I was unsurprised therefore to find that her posthumously published Guilty involves “a Kafkaesque bureaucracy”.
These short stories are, then, probably not the best introduction to Kavan; they might instead provide, for those already familiar with her work, insight into the obsessions and interests that inform Ice or Sleep Has His House. Indeed, it is those novels I would suggest to those interested in exploring Kavan.