This short story collection from a beloved British author, published in the U.K. in 1995 but only now receiving a U.S. release, glimmers like found treasure—or a mirage.
The princess in this insightful, imaginative, and wryly clever collection’s title story, “The Vanishing Princess or The Origin of Cubism,” may or may not be imprisoned in the circular tower room in which she lives in solitude, spending her time (of which she has no sense) placidly reading books on her bed, generally unaware of and remarkably incurious about the world outside, which she can glimpse from her small window. It is only after one soldier and then another turn up to pierce and fragment the innocent solitude of her existence—bringing food, a mirror, and a calendar, to satisfy their own pleasure—that she comes to perceive time and disappointment, to see herself as they do and consequently to disappear. Among the ideas percolating in this quirky, disquieting fairy tale is the way a sense of loss can attend the moment of being found. Readers just discovering Diski (In Gratitude, 2016, etc.), who died from cancer in 2016, through the dozen stories in this collection may perceive this acutely—the searing sense of finding her funny, flinty voice just as it has disappeared. Yet for Diski devotees existing and new, the far-ranging work the author has left behind here is something to savor. In “Shit and Gold,” she offers a bold and naughty reimagining of “Rumpelstiltskin” in which the upwardly mobile miller’s daughter takes action to create a far more fulfilling fate for herself and the strangely named fellow with the helpful ability to spin straw into precious metal. (The miller’s daughter, it so happens, has her talents, too.) In “Housewife,” she steams things up with the story of two people swept up in, but not away by, a ravenous extramarital affair. In “Bath Time,” she brings us a woman in determined pursuit of the perfect bath. Yes, only that. But in Diski’s able hands the modest plot yields riches, shedding glinty light on dreams deferred, pleasures denied, the way we can, if we are single-minded enough, take the straw of everyday life and turn it into gold.
Regal, raunchy, revealing—the stories in this collection leave a lasting impression.