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Stilled


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by Kirsten Schmidt

What a lovely little book this is. Having inured myself to opening self-published books only to find spelling errors, slipshod typesetting, poor binding, and so on, it was a pleasure to find one of those rare books that have clearly been planned down to the last detail. The author cannot always take full credit for this, but I suspect that, in Kirsten Schmidt's case, much tender loving care has come from her direction. The result is that, even if the contents were unremarkable, the reader would be predisposed to enjoy Ms Schmidt's short stories and, like me, would end by putting the book carefully away on a shelf, with no thought at all of the Oxfam shop.

To begin with, there's the cover. Modern, certainly -- the girl in the picture couldn't be mistaken for a girl from any decade earlier than the 1990s. The pink tones give the conventional image its extra appeal. Not a cover designed to appeal to the male reader, I have to say (or at any rate, not with the intention of looking inside), but nevertheless one of the best I've seen on a self-published book.

I keep saying "self-published", without actually being sure that Iceni Books isn't a commercial publisher. The thinness of the volume, more like a book of poetry than short stories in appearance, makes one suspect that the contents actually represent the whole of Kirsten Schmidt's literary output. "Literary" it certainly is, perhaps composed as a creative writing exercise, one that turned out so well as to lead to the idea of publication. There's nothing wrong with that, only I was hungry for more. Ms Schmidt's writing has a delicate, lyrical beauty, combined with an imaginative power that lead you unsuspectingly onwards. Unlike many modern short stories, which deal with a single character or state of mind, those contained in Stilled have a beginning, a middle and an end -- albeit not always in that order.

This attention to detail that I mentioned in relation to the book's physical appearance is a trait that offers a key to the content. The theme that ties the three stories together is that of "the self", but it is a self represented from different viewpoints. Of the three, only the second story, Mary, has the twist-ending characteristic of the genre, and I liked the touch of humour -- something I found lacking in the other two. In fact, the title story which opens the book, despite (or perhaps because of) being far longer than the others, does not have the same punch. On the other hand, anyone who delves into the soul of the individual can expect a mixed outcome, in emotional terms. Introspection seems to be this author's specialism, and a perfectly valid one it is.

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Mary also stands out because most of the narrative is in the form of dialogue -- a striking contrast with the other two stories, which contain virtually no dialogue. Yet the conversation between Mathilde and her friend Sarah is unlike any real conversation one could expect to hear.

"So, Mathilde, my story also comes to an end on this note: this strange woman's story changed me in some inexplicable way."

If I go on to say that I suspect this entire work of having been written by someone who is at the very least bilingual, you will understand why I am so admiring of it. To have the imagination to create such original stories is one thing; to have the artistic talent to realise the concept so effectively is another; and to use the English language so beautifully is this writer's crowning achievement.

The final story, Unnoticed Wonder, relates what happened when the narrator dreamed that he or she was -- well, I won't spoil the surprise by telling you. Suffice it to say that it's an interesting take on the subject, looking at the world from an entirely new angle. Regardless of whether it has been done before, it is done with a convincing panache, and the "dream" makes acceptable the otherwise impossible premise. All in all, Kirsten Schmidt is a short-story writer of great accomplishment, and perhaps a fine novelist in the making. Let's hear more from her soon.

ISBN 1 58736 273 2
Published by Iceni Books, 2004
79pp, paperback
Retail price $11.95

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Review by Deborah Fisher