This is a truly excellent anthology of international short stories, including one about a polar bear.
They come from the USA, the UK, Kenya, Ireland (North and South), Zimbabwe and New Zealand. From this, it
will be easily seen that both styles and subject matter will vary greatly. What doesn’t vary, however, is the quality.
I didn’t find one dud story in this bunch, whether or not there was a polar bear in it.
We have stories about relationships, about waste disposal, about magic, about the wishes of the dead, about
telephone dating, about your parent’s true lives, about fairies, about a polar bear, about finding yourself, about sex,
etc. Some are funny, some are thoughtful, some are sad; but all are involving and well written. I’d like to concentrate
on two which really struck me. Both are by UK writers, but I didn’t realise that until I just checked.
The first is No Time Like the Present by Brindley Hallam Dennis. A brother and sister are going through
a photography book left to them by their father after their parent’s deaths. Their father was a photographer who regularly
took an annual holiday on his own and produced a photography book from the holiday. These were sold locally. There were twelve
of them. This book seems to have spreads of photographs equivalent to those twelve other books, but as Gerry and Anne study
them, they realise something else is being shown.
Apart from the beauty and slow reveal that this story contains, the style is particularly effective. The
pages of photographs are depicted, in prose, by boxes on the page, set out as would be the photographs in the book. This is
unusual, imaginative and works particularly well. A lovely story, originally told.
The other story I would like to mention is called Fate, Freddo and the Number Four. It’s by
Aliya Whitely and Freddo is, you guessed it, a polar bear. This is one of the cleverest stories I’ve read, with the
gradual accumulation of details, Sylvia’s gymnast background, Jamie being a cricket bowler, the castanets, etc. all
coming beautifully together in masterfully choreographed action towards the end. And Freddo, he’s the "only trained
polar bear in the world". But it’s how he was trained and how he’s made to act in the commercial they are filming,
that matters. And the over-whelming importance of the number four!
If this book only contained the above two stories, it would be well worth reading, but it doesn’t.
It contains many more, all of which are good. I don’t remember getting as much pleasure from a book of short stories
as I did from this one. I give it unqualified praise.