The Garden Party and Other Stories – Katherine Mansfield

Book #714

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily

I suppose it might be considered a bit sacrilegious for a New Zealander to admit to never having turned over a single page of this national icon’s work. But I may as well confess up front. Nope. Never read any Mansfield before.
Joining this first, is another, reading this work as an e-book. My version came from the Project Guttenberg library.

The Garden Party is a volume of short stories. In my edition the title story is the third of the stories and, at the risk of committing yet more sacrilege, I didn’t find it particularly inspiring. Maybe I wasn’t meant to. I’m a bit unclear on this, having now spent a little bit of time learning about the author.

The story is apparently set in Tinakori Road in Wellington although this is never actually stated outright. It is full of class commentary, with the privilege of the Sheridan family who are hosting the garden party being shown in contrast to the lives, and death, of the working class families in the lane across the broad road. Here is the description of the working class cottages:

They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that neighbourhood at all. They were little mean dwellings painted a chocolate brown. In the garden patches there was nothing but cabbage stalks, sick hens and tomato cans. The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty-stricken. Little rags and shreds of smoke, so unlike the great silvery plumes that uncurled from the Sheridans’ chimneys.

Interestingly the theme of this, and most of the other stories, is transition. Laura Sheridan is changing from naive, sheltered girl to adulthood and awareness. And this plays out in different ways. Unfortunately I didn’t really pick up on this until I had read the entire series of stories. The themes became clear as I made my way through the remainder. Death, change and transitions are the things that appear to be consuming the author’s mind. Not really surprising since she herself was battling ill health, TB and eventually having to face her own mortality.

Being completely honest, I won’t be rushing out to get another volume of her stories. But in saying that I am glad that I made the effort to read them. It took me to nearly halfway through the book before I began to relax into the stories. I found some completely bland and colourless and others prickly. Some had characters that were completely irritating, needing a good slapping and others with characters deserving great pity and admiration.

The writing style was easy and some of her descriptions have a great deal of colour about them, similar to the quote about the chimney smoke above.
One of my favourite phrases she uses is “little staggerer” to describe toddlers.

Oh Waily – 3 stars
Goodreads – 4 stars
Amazon – 4.4 stars


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