So, last week, I was just browsing through the blogs I follow when I came across the mention of a short story of Virginia Woolf’s, reviewed at The Reading Life
. Considering I was planning on giving Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway
a try sometime soon, I figured it would be good to try reading a short story first. (Yes, I’m afraid I’ve never read any of Woolf’s works before!) So I followed the link Mel
had provided to an online Text of “Solid Objects” and read it through. This was succeeded by another trial short story called “A Haunted House”. Then, considering I was on a bit of a role, I read a couple of short stories by someone I’d never heard of before – Fernando Sorrentino. He is an Argentinian whose works have been translated by Clark M Zlotchew. The two stories I read by him were supposed to be humourous. They were, however, strange. I’ll elaborate on that later.
“Solid Objects” by Virginia Woolf
I found this piece very interesting. It is about this man who’s ambitions lie in getting into parliament. However, this ambition takes a rather strange turn when he finds a piece of broken, smooth, green glass buried in beach sand. He begins to collect anything green that reminds him even remotely of this piece of glass that sits so proudly on his mantlepiece. This interest soon becomes an obsession to the extent that he loses his chances at parliament and all his friends. At the end, one wonders if the message is that an obsession can lead to your eventual isolation and destruction, or could it be that if you have ambition it is to the exclusion of all else. Nothing else should really matter. Really, the man does not seem to care, even when his best friend, the one who tries to stick with him the most, finally walks out never to return. I thought this a very very thought-provoking story.
“The Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf
I think this story provides us with a sample of surrealism. The premise itself is simple – the ghost of a former loving couple come to re-visit their home as they linger on their lovely memories. However, this house is inhabited by another couple. Throughout this tale I could not make out, at times, whether it was the real couple or the ghost couple talk to us. Everything just seemed to flow one into the other until you could not distinguish between the real and the unreal, between memories and the present. I really enjoyed reading this piece. However, I doubt I could read too much of this sort of writing. At some point a reader, at least I as a reader, would prefer something more straightforward.
“There’s a Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella” by Fernando Sorrentino
This was such a strange story. I really could not fathom the sense behind it. The writer, for five years, is hit continously on the head by a man with an umbrella – I mean continously. Even when the writer has to sleep, eat or go relieve himself. Initially, it annoys him a great deal and he tries everything, including beating the man up, to get him to stop. Yet the strange man never stops beating on the head with his umbrella. Pretty soon, the writer becomes quite used to this, and at the end, even says, that should this man stop he would miss him dreadfully. The only ‘moral’ I can see from this story, or rather, underlying meaning, is that sometimes, what annoys us, could so easily grow on us that at some point, when it stops, we simply miss it like we would an arm or a leg.
“An Elightening Tale” by Fernando Sorrentino
Well, if the previous story was strange, I found this one a bit absurd. This one reads like a real short story. A beggar, begging at a miserly, rich lady’s house, is given a loaf of hard bread. When he bites into it he finds a ring of diamonds. He takes it back to the lady, and as a sign of gratitude she gives him another hard loaf of bread. Again he bites into a ring…in fact, the exact same ring as before. He returns it and the same events follow. At the end, the beggar is said to be ‘lying’ about the ring he finds in the loaf and he gets a loaf everyday of his life. I’m afraid I didn’t quite get this story. How could the beggar ‘lie’ if he didn’t have the ring as proof? And how many rings of the same kind did the woman have?! If anyone can figure this one out, do let me know….
To read something about Fernando Sorrentino, go here