Published by Harper Collins
What springs to mind when you think of Cecelia Ahern’s work? Popular fiction with some very good unique selling points – dead husband sends prepared letters from beyond the grave for instance? When you think about fairy tales you immediately associate them with damsels in distress being rescued by handsome princes, or a handy dose of magic sorting out any problems the hero or heroine happens to run in to. Smash Ahern’s knack for good, deceptively simple plots together with the strange surreality of fairy tales and fables and you get Roar, a surprising and captivating collection of 30 short stories, fairy tales for grown-ups with a decidedly feminist twist.
At the risk of sounding condescending towards a writer with years of experience and success, I feel that with Roar Cecelia Ahern has hit her stride. Short stories are a wholly different beast than novels and the author here displays a talent for constructing a tight story within a limited amount of words. Taking fears and social anxieties and twisting them in to these stories, she weaves a skillful set of modern day fables, designed to empower and invigorate readers (primarily women) to shake off their insecurities, irrational and not so irrational fears and feelings of inadequacy and live their lives to the beat of their own drums.
What would life be like if there really was a hole you could crawl into to combat a distressing situation at work? One unnamed woman does just that, and finds a whole cohort down there suffering in similar conditions. None of the protagonists are given names, helping to insert yourself into their shoes as it were, not unlike the woman who tries her husband’s shoes on for size and gets to see what life is like through his eyes.
How about if (literally) jumping on the bandwagon means you’ll get to the top faster, hardening your heart and loosening your morals along the way, eventually finding that it’s the journey, not the destination that counts? Or take the strange case of a woman who, as she ages, slowly disappears. How to rectify that, particularly if her voice diminishes as surely as her corporal being?
For me only one or two of the thirty stories fail to hit the mark. An airheaded woman floats away because all she’s concerned about is social media likes and maintaining her outward image. This one was a bit preachy for me, a tad judgemental, certainly grandstanding on the issue of what may be seen as a primarily female weakness containing vapid concerns, especially considering that the other stories are designed to lift women, their issues and personal values up, not condescend to them. Another story of a society where you wear your gender on your sleeve has an interesting initial concept but curiously fails to live up to it, let down with a flimsy, hurried and frustrating ending.
Saying that, I was taken with the vast majority of the tales, and have thought a great deal about them since. I really liked one of the quirkier offerings, that of a woman and her sisters who unravels, suffer a meltdown and who becomes unfulfilled, respectively. The first sister unwinds like a ball of wool, the second collapses into a sentient puddle of gloop and the third keeps hiding away in her pocket the puzzle pieces of herself that are breaking of. It’s weird, your better to leave your disbelief at the start of the chapter but it’s an effective way of dealing with escalating everyday problems, knowing when to turn to friends or family for help while realising they may have problems of their own to deal with, that you can use your own personal skills to help them with.
The stories are bite-sized, meaning it’s a handy book to dip in and out of, but if you’re anything like me you’ll keep reading chapter after chapter to see which saying gets the treatment next. It would make a great present for anyone who enjoys an off-kilter read, and particularly for a female friend who might need a boost of empowerment in her life. Nicole Kidman has apparently optioned the rights to turn the book into a TV series, so read it first to stay ahead of the curve and to let your imagination loose before someone else’s interpretation distills the individual connection to each story.
- First published in The Tuam Herald on 12.12.18