Thursday 4 November 2021

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "Ways of Living" by Gemma Seltzer

This wry, strange collection of stories was a delight to read from start to finish.  

Seltzer’s writing is quirky yet visceral. The collection is filled with wonderfully peculiar stories that pique the reader’s imagination and take us on a journey through familiar London streets, yet with each one, we find ourselves challenged with the unfamiliar. 

Imagine having bath time with a ventriloquist's dummy that has mind of her own and a scathing wit to boot. Meet Other Esther, Esther’s friend and sometimes nemesis, both vying for their father Raphael’s attention. A curious exploration of childhood yearning, Seltzer captures the confusion and bewilderment Esther feels when her father's love seems impossible to hold on to. 

How about taking a picnic with a miniature Mum, long dead, yet happily ensconced in a dressing-gown pocket? This is a strange and complex story, where a mother-daughter relationship is examined with real insight. Wry and witty in places yet dashed with poignancy and absurdism, Seltzer showcases her wonderful originality in 'Some Women Carry Silence in Their Pockets.' 

In 'Get Away from Earth for a While,' Andie is shocked when she receives a telephone call from her friend Leah: 

          ‘You’re joking.’
          ‘I’m not, Andie. Why are you being weird?’
          ‘It’s marriage, Leah.’
          ‘Don’t be bitter.’
          ‘Don’t be a facsimile of every other woman who ever existed. I thought you had principles.’ Andie regretted the words as soon as she had said them.

Instead of attending her friend’s wedding, Andie takes herself to the top of a tree in a London Park to eat ice-cream in her underwear and avoid the awful, yet inevitable, breakdown of their friendship.  

These are just a few examples from this fascinating collection. I thoroughly enjoyed every single story; each one was surprising, often uncomfortably sharp, yet beautifully written. I look forward to reading more of Gemma’s work. 

About the reviewer

Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate from the University of Leicester. Her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Spelk, Virtualzine, Reflex Fiction and Lunate.  

She won the 2021 Crossing the Tees Short Story Prize and the Retreat West Themed Flash Fiction Prize and took third prize in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize and the 2020 HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition. She was a finalist in The Forge Flash Fiction competition, a semi-finalist in the LISP Flash Fiction Award and her micro piece 'My Devil' received a Special Commendation in the 2021 Blinkpot Awards. She is currently working on her first Flash Fiction collection.

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