Book Review: All Saints

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All Saints was recently named a finalist in the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. It is the only short story collection nominated, and again, here is another publication by Biblioasis making this year’s awards circuit.  (And this one readily available by our public library and downloadable to my Kobo. ;-) )

All Saints gives us a wickedly strong start with Barney, ensuring I was happily eager to continue reading. Barney contains this wonderful and charming character on a heartwarming mission to build a room for his old war-time buddy. I was then readily keen to move on to the next story, What They Have and in it, the quality easily upheld itself. I knew these stories in the collection were to be connected, so seeing how these two did so put a little smile on my face.  In the next story, we are introduced to the Reverend of All Saints Anglican Church, Simon. He will feature in many of these stories, as does the All Saints Church itself. Simon comes across in his initial introduction as a very charming man with that story as well made it a well received one by me.

The following stories however, were not met with as much satisfaction. I began to become conflicted with the collection or the message inside the next few stories. Magnificat and Kim’s Game were rather disturbing and as I continued reading I became somewhat frustrated with how some of these characters seemed to ooze desperation over attracting, finding and keeping men in their lives. One resorted to using prayer in her attempt to attract a man. While I was reading these two or three stories in question, “Under my Thumb” by the Rolling Stones played in the background. This is a song that irks me to no end (as do most of RS songs) and perhaps was adding fuel to some of my frustration at those questionable stories. I decided to put the collection down and step back from them for awhile.

However, when I returned it, I was greeted with, Return. An apt title, as I was returning to the stories and any discomfort previously felt was swept away with the return (well, she does) of Emily, a character featured previously in What They Have. A wonderful story. And then, oh and then, I started October Song

October Song is written in epistolary format, but one sided only – it is only the writing of (Miss) Alice Vipond to Simon – the rector who features prominently in many of these stories. She is writing from a psychiatric pentitentairy  oh yes, it’s a jail – what exactly did (Miss) Alice Vipond do? Why has she been locked away for so long, and why has Simon been the only one to contact her – and why now has Simon chosen to end his correspondence to her? We never see any of his letters, but get a good solid gist from Alice’s. Oooh this is a delicious and just brilliant story! I was giddy with delight after reading this one. As Simon writes later, (In Heroes): “I was left somewhat affected by my association with her.” No doubt, so will you!

It was noted in other reviews that some were disturbed or too creeped out by Alice Vipond’s tale but for myself, while I didn’t care for some of the other stories, notably Magnificat or Kim’s Game for being too disturbing, I found October Song to be fantastic! Maybe it was because I had set aside this collection for a few days and allowed it some breathing space.

Spare Change continues along in the collections great tales and we end with Heroes, which as mentioned above is quite connected to October Song and was a wonderful story and ending to the collection.

Overall, with my tiny exceptions to two or three stories, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. It is definitely up there as one of the best collections I’ve read this year and is rightly placed on a major award list.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev