Kirsty Logan’s The Gracekeepers is easily one of my favourite books of the year so far. This limited release hardback edition of Logan’s new short story collection was an instant purchase (the paperback is apparently released next year from Vintage, so if you haven’t been able to find a copy in a bookshop, have no fear). There are varying types of short story collections, many are an amalgam of writings the author has spread around in various publications and brought together; some have a unifying theme or exploratory message linking the stories despite transcending through diverse characters and experiences. A Portable Shelter is a personal piece of writing from Logan, and takes one of the more interesting and unique forms of short stories by creating a frame narrative of two women telling their soon-to-born child a story each night.
Similarly to The Gracekeepers, Logan’s lyrical prose dripping with Scottish mythology and truthfully brutal and beautiful characters is demonstrated wonderfully once again. The thirteen stories weave their way through fantastical, mythological and fundamentally dark places fueled with love, murder, beating hearts and lashings of psychological trauma. The characters we meet, from a young man’s resilience to narrating his own disturbed life in ‘Ex-‘ and an incredibly dark and frighteningly damaged wife of a fisherman in ‘The Perfect Wife’, are all fearful, brave, outcast, threatened and human. These two particular stories I’ve highlighted follow each other in the collection and signaled a reaction from me to put the book down for the night; they were uncomfortable and challenging. It’s a testament to the author’s prose that you can draw the reader into a place we may not be comfortable with and balance them together with the other tales in a satisfying way.
It is also a sign of the quality of the collection that I could easily talk about each individual story in detail, but reviewing short story collections is a difficult challenge without spoiling the events and, more importantly in my opinion, the tone and experience of each tale. A few of the stories directly quote the title of the collection, A Portable Shelter, but utilising it in unique contexts. While reading the stories I couldn’t help but consider why Logan had chosen the title to speak for the collection; it is a fantastically open and vivid phrase. The recurring image of the pregnant mother, transforming an adult woman into their child’s very own portable shelter, carrying them throughout a long period of their lives to bring them into the world. The literal portable shelter of a Bluebeard’s caravan in ‘The Keep’, a fisherman’s boat protecting it’s owner alone on the cold sea. And in the perfect conclusion, the final story ‘The Ghost Club’ portrays the very human desires, fears and demons we carry around with us in our daily lives, ourselves our own portable shelter from the outside world and the losses that may occur.
This is a clearly very personal collection from Logan, and we are fortunate she has shared it with us. The cover is gorgeous too.