Books From The Pantry: She-Clown and other stories by Hannah Vincent reviewed by Yang Ming

Women are often seen as resilient creatures in the face of adversity. But beneath this façade lies something deeper: vulnerability and the desire to be a better version of themselves. That is what British writer Hannah Vincent hopes to convey in her debut short story collection, She-Clown and other stories. Packed with sixteen fierce and funny feminist stories, this extraordinary collection is a delightful read.

The stories are told from the women’s perspective. They are brutally honest, raw, witty, and at the same time, moving. There is Charlie in the title story, She-Clown, which was shortlisted for the Manchester Writing Competition 2017, and Words & Women Competition 2017. Charlie is She-Clown, a magician who performs magic tricks at children’s parties. When the girls’ mother introduces her to the party guests Charlie realises she knew some of them. They are men who previously treated her with no respect by engaging in sexual acts with her. The ordinariness of the magic tricks she performed emphasises the absurdities of life, as if women are meant to clown around for them. But Charlie is enlightened when the girls’ father, Tony, who first mistook her as ‘She-Clam’, explains that ‘There’s no difference between male and female clams, did you know? No difference in colour, or markings, no mating behaviour. So only the clam knows who’s who and what’s what.’ This metaphorical commentary brilliantly encapsulates what gender equality means.

While Charlie gets a glimpse of reciprocal attraction, others are seeking to find freedom. There is Charlotte in ‘The Poison Frog’, a simple story about an unlikely friendship between a frog and a girl, with a hint of surrealism. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2016, it tells the story of Charlotte who lives with her mother, even though she’s thirty years old. They are a close pair often seen together for grocery shopping and dental appointments. During their visit to a specialist, Charlotte’s mother discovers there’s a poison frog living in her throat! Over time, Charlotte is strangely drawn to it. After a successful operation, she takes the frog home. She takes care of it like a human companion. She dresses the frog up with a bonnet from one of her mother’s dolls. She even takes it for a walk where her neighbours chirp, ‘Morning, Froggy!’

The unexpected appearance of the poison frog marks as a turning point in Charlotte’s life and she begins to understand what makes her so happy. Fundamentally, the story asks the question of how much does one willing to fight for what they want, achieve it without destroying a relationship?

The collection ends perfectly with the story, ‘Woman of the Year’. It’s achingly funny yet empowering. Written from a second person perspective, the reader gets invited to a formal luncheon in ‘so-called intelligent buildings where no one can hear you when you are inside.’ Everyone is seated at a table according to the first letter of their names. The reader is reminded again the reason behind the invitation that ‘someone thinks highly of you, considers you worth inviting, wants to celebrate you.’ But who invited them?

As everyone tries to figure out who invited them, the conversations at the table begin to flow freely around the reader. You listen to their life stories and their achievements as if you are right there with them. The luncheon drags on until an impending storm throws everyone into disarray.

Writing about women takes a lot of courage and sensitivity. In this case, Vincent delves deeper into the feminine psyche, and incorporates them into her characters. With a greater understanding of their emotions and behaviour, these characters become sublime and multi-faceted. She’s a talented writer whose strength lies in turning ordinary stories into something extraordinary. Ultimately, She-Clown and Other Stories is a page-turner, and with every page, it will invigorate your soul. Now, that certainly establishes her as one of the freshest voices in contemporary fiction.

She Clown and other stories is available from Myriad

Special thanks to Emma Dowson.

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