Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & - Anna Tambour

(What's this, you cry, a verdict?)

I began chewing this book whilst stuck at Heidelberg Railway Station. The next train wasn't due for ten minutes, and wasn't going to my stop anyway, so as I slouched against a street light waiting for my brother to pick me up, I started on the first story, Klokwerk's Heart. In it, I found a flavour that would suffuse through all of Tambour's other stories: delight. It is, I think, her greatest strength, that she has mastered that incredibly hard atmosphere that is joy, happiness, and love, without the added bedbugs of trite, cliche, and sloppiness. They're warm stories, friendly stories, stories that want to be your friend and hold your hand for a while. And yet, even as they're wooing you, some of those stories are down right nasty. Here, I'm thinking of The Eel and Crumpled Sheets and Death-Fluffies.

Travels with Robert Louis Stevenson in the CĂ©vennes left me in stitches. Told through the eyes of the donkey that is Stevenson's sole companion, it was full of practical, no-nonsense observations from said beast, and a brilliant insight into exactly why donkeys are unwilling to go where ever they're asked to go. The last line, however, was the crown.

Valley of the Sugars of Salt is a beast of a story, but a gentle beast. It is perhaps the story that contains the most love in it, a peculiar sort of love that comes from the orchid and its special trees to its tender. Tim, a man with too much money, has taken it to his head to revive a virtually extinct species of fruit tree; the medlars. Medlars are a peculiar fruit that is best eaten when near putrescent, close to being rotten through, and looking just the same. (No, it doesn't sound all that appealing, does it?) His scheme to set the gourmet world afire with them falls through, for aesthetic reasons, but he choses not to give up the orchid, having found a peace there he has never known. The trees themselves have the most personality in the story, rascals the lot of them, telling stories and jokes night in and night out, to the delight of the spiders, birds and beasts around them. It was such a warm story, I felt the strong urge to go out and hug a tree once I'd finished.

The Ocean in Kansas was a lovely, whimsical piece, and I think the world would be a better place if more people gave into such flights of fancy.

And then there was Monterra's Deliciosa, the true beast of the book. A giant rambling story that wandered about the place, looking over here, investigating over there, taking its time to get to where it was going. The journey was worthy of the end. Food, something that Tambour paints vividly in all her stories, was rife throughout, as a country boy moved up and out in the world of high class chefs and restaurants. (What they did to the pigs!) But I couldn't have predicted where it was going, and didn't. I won't reveal it here, as it is something best discovered yourself, but it left me shocked, and slightly nauseated. Still, good writing is good writing, and it was very good.

These are but a few of Tambour's works contained in the collection. It is my preference to read collections all the way through; I do not break them up with other stories, I treat them as any other book. As such, it was wonderful to witness little nods and smiles that went from one story to another. The medlars snuck in a couple of times to say hello, her fascination with lips and food spread about. Although none of the stories are related, it lent them a feel of connectivity. They were all part of the great mind of Anna Tambour.

Verdict: Different, always unexpected, brilliant.

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