THE NIGHT OF THE FUNNY HATS by Elspeth Davie

THE NIGHT OF THE FUNNY HATS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fifteen small stories by an established British writer (little-known here) who is marvelous at quickly conjuring up engagingly offbeat, resonant situations out of everyday specifics. . . but rather less marvelous when it comes to exploring or underlining her images and themes. Nearly all the best material here involves loners, self-doubters, outcasts: a childhood-haunted signpainter making mistakes because of free-associating memory (""TOBACCONIST"" gets confused with ""toboggan""); a lonely little girl making painfully short-lived friendships while recovering from whooping cough in an out-of-town resort; a mediocre street-portrait artist being forced to really look at one of his subjects; a jittery geologist confessing his vision of a mermaid to his colleague's equally frazzled wife. In the title story, three unattached riders on a grueling Australian bus tour from Perth to Adelaide feel out each other's loneliness (while the weary driver half-heartedly urges the passengers to join in the usual last-dinner-on-the-road ""Funny Hat Night""). And in the initially beguiling ""A Weight Problem,"" a thin man volunteers to get off an overweight airplane and spends the next two hours considering his ""weightiness,"" physical and otherwise. But here, as in one or two other stories, Davie belabors her charming central notion with some arch wordplay. And elsewhere through the collection, intriguing premises are similarly overloaded with contrived endings (the death of the driver in the title story), quasi-surrealism (a shoe-salesman confronting an enigmatic, Angel-of-Death-ish customer), or unnecessary announcements of Message (a lovely little parable in which motorists treat a non-driver as a leper is nearly ruined by thematic overkill). Still, Davie has a remarkable feel for place and moment, and she is clearly not satisfied with playing it safe as a story-writer (there are some interesting attempts at mystery-laden Pinteresque dialogue, some hints of Kafka too). So this is a worthy, often genuinely alluring import, suggesting that other Davie works might well enjoy a transatlantic crossing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (North Pomfret, Vermont 05053)