A collection of 14 mini-stories and a short play based on the idea of haunting. Sometimes it has to do with ghostly phenomena, and sometimes with psychological phenomena that are more primal. The stories drift to us from different eras, past and present, but they all share a central theme: they all center around a troubled person. For example, Gaston, a French child who lost his parents just a few weeks earlier, witnesses an odd event on the beach.
A woman travels to a French castle with an appointment with her past in the inevitably touching but beautiful Red Letter Day. The Duet runs the risk of being completely different, drawing the viewer into a fascinating dialogue and then hitting a stinging note at the end.
There are different lengths of stories, from the 36 pages of The Ship of the Dead (lights on for that one!) to the captivating 3-pager Why Yew Trees Live So Long. Yet the length does not matter because we’re drawn into the moment, and, in my case, the book is consumed in its entirety.
As silly as it sounds after saying that, I began reading The Mistletoe Bride with trepidation and anticipation. You see, I devoured Kate’s Languedoc Trilogy (Sepulchre, Labyrinth, Citadel) and am in awe of what she’s capable of spinning out to such lengths while weaving such an intriguing storyline.
Kate has proven to be an exemplar when it comes to writing long stories, but short stories are a different discipline altogether. No worries – these stories are not only enthralling, but they’re also more poignant than scary, so cowardly readers are not ostracized.
All of these plays have been published before since some of the plays have appeared in periodicals over the years, and Syrinx at the end has become a classic for American Drama.
Nevertheless, Kate has tweaked and rewritten some of the originals as the first collection of the stories. In some cases, she has even rewritten the originals in a way that she is happier with at this juncture of her career.
A fascinating aspect of these stories is that we can actually trace the author’s inspiration from these stories. In The Yellow Scarf, for example, not only do strange things happen to a woman wandering around a castle, but we also see the roots of the time travel ideas that will later appear in the novel.
The Drowned Village shows her love for French folklore, a love that was also evident in her later works, and in The Princess Alice, one of my favourites, she combines real history with what-ifs.
As part of Kate’s personal notes, she explains the origin of every story as she pre-empts or posts-scripts it. This is especially effective with the title story, a version of which we’ve all heard before (i.e. a game of hide-and-seek gone haywire).It is, however, Kate’s explanation of where and how the story originated that adds a fresh flavour to the tale.
As well as providing information on the author’s family members, the notes also inform us about Aunt Margaret, the first woman ordained in her diocese.As a result, Kate credits her own creative process to these people, showing us someone whose success did not eradicate humility or gratitude; a thought that is as comforting as curling up with these short stories before bedtime, as soon as children have gone to bed.