People have been talking about us …
‘The handsome volumes of Handheld Press have provided some of the few rays of light in this latest of a succession of depressing years. Their eclectic selection of reprints has created arresting temporal conjunctions that have made me think about the present differently. Rose Macaulay’s speculative satire, What Not: A Prophetic Comedy, originally published in 1918, extrapolates from the British State’s unprecedented intrusion into private life during the First World War to imagine a Ministry of Brains committed to raising public intelligence through various measures such as the “Mental Progress Act.” … Written in the very different context of 1970s America, the late Vonda N. McIntyre’s The Exile Waiting is predicated on values of individual agency, responsibility,and consent that speak directly to the intersectional politics of the twenty-first century. What the publication of both of these novels in 2019 illustrates is that the various historical backlashes against feminism have not punctured a deeper movement of ideas across the last hundred years. Fortunately, we only have to wait until January 20, for Handheld’s next offering: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Of Cats and Elfins: Short Tales and Fantasies, a companion to her exquisitely sharp-edged Kingdoms of Elfin, which they published in 2018.’ Nick Hubble in Strange Horizons, January 2020.
We’re in a podcast episode of Words to That Effect, all about lost books and forgotten stories!
Read an article about us in The Bath Magazine, from May 2020.
We have our own Handheld Press YouTube channel, where you can watch interview clips about all our books, and readings from the books by the translators or the authors of the introductions. All the videos are linked from each book’s own page.
Jeremy Hawthorn, who’s been championing Ernest Bramah for years, reads here from our edition of What Might Have Been, for which he wrote the Introduction.
Here’s Juliane Roemhild, who wrote the Introduction to Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Caravaners, reading the bit from the novel where Otto explains why he’s not going to show his write-up of their holiday to his wife any longer.
Here’s Toby Bainton, the translator of After the Death of Ellen Keldberg, reading the section where Ann-Sofie surveys who will be most useful for her plan in a Skagen pizza house in winter.
Here are the editors of A Quaker Conscientious Objector, Rebecca Wynter and Ben Pink Dandelion, reading extracts from the prison letters of Wilfrid Littleboy.
David McKay, translator of Jan Jacob Slauerhoff’s Adrift in the Middle Kingdom, reads the opening pages here:
Listen to Kate talking to Conor Reid on the Words To That Effect podcast (March 2020), about lost books and how to bring them back to life.
Biographies of some of our authors
We’ve collected pocket biographies of our authors in pdf format: download them here.
for Blitz Writing: Inez Holden biography
for What Not: Rose Macaulay biography
for Adrift in the Midle Kingdom: Slauerhoff biography
for The Caravaners: von Arnim biography
for Kingdoms of Elfin, Of Cats and Elfins, and The Akeing Heart: Warner biography
for Save Me The Waltz: Zelda Fitzgerald biography
for The Exile Waiting: Vonda N McIntyre biography
All links to our reviews are posted on each book’s page: we have a LOT. Here are some of the highlights.
Ernest Bramah, What Might Have Been (1907)
‘What Might Have Been is an enjoyable novel that represents one of the better literary efforts in this sub-genre of popular fiction. Bramah writes with humour and a good degree of irony, and his troubling politics are tempered in part by an absurdist, satirical style.’ Foundation, March 2019
‘Smaller presses are also to be thanked for turning their attention to largely forgotten, more middlebrow authors such as Ernest Bramah, and doing us all a favour in the process …Bramah offers the vision of a left-wing state gone horribly wrong … this book was almost certainly on Orwell’s mind when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four‘, Times Literary Supplement, 24 November 2017
John Buchan, The Runagates Club (1928)
‘Buchan’s stories are entertaining enough for those fond of tales of horror and excitement with a gentleman narrator’, Times Literary Supplement, 6 July 2018
Melissa Edmundson (ed.) Women’s Weird
‘A landmark anthology … Edmundson has curated a solid journey through weird landscapes … The notes/annotations at the back of the book by publisher Kate Macdonald should become an industry standard … This is an unmissable, urgent and era-defining work. ‘ – Gingernuts of Horror
‘I’ve been anticipating Women’s Weird from Handheld Press for months now and it has not disappointed … an excellent collection of stories that are agreeably scary whilst you’re reading them, and provide much more to think about when you’re not.’ – Desperate Reader
‘It’s high time for the release of this new collection of short stories from Handheld Press, edited by expert on women’s supernatural fiction, Melissa Edmundson … Women’s Weird is a collection of stories covering a 50-year period, 1890-1940, illustrating the evolution of weird fiction and showcasing women’s contribution to it. There are a range of styles and themes on display in these stories, some closer to traditional gothic ghost stories, especially in the earlier years, but as soon as we get to Edith Nesbit’s “The Shadow” (1905), we have entered weird fiction territory … Women’s Weird is packed with weird gems.’ – Sublime Horror
Bookmunch were delighted with it: ‘Every story in Women’s Weird justifies its inclusion, and Edmundson’s terrific introduction does a great job of defining not only the weird, but shifting our view of history to centre women’s writing within the genre. The book feels entirely of the moment, and its selection of stories is completely perfect … An exceptional anthology, packed with brilliant fiction. In years to come this is going to be cited in essays as an essential part of the weird fiction canon.’
‘There are so many stories I loved in this collection, but the ones that stood out to me as unlike any of the weird fiction I’ve read before were those that located their horror within the mundane … “Couching at the Door” was perhaps my favorite story in the collection, and its exploration of the relationship between art and morality as well as the story of a hedonistic older man leading a beautiful young protege into depravity’ – The Gothic Library
Read this interview / essay with Melissa Edmundson in Cunning Folk magazine: ‘… for me, Weird is often “quieter” than horror. There’s something ominous waiting just below the surface. Unlike horror, there is also more left to the imagination.’
‘This book is the perfect companion to an evening of weird … The stories explore a vast array of ideas and occurrences that feed into our human psyche, the scares and the fear that we hear about in folklore and legend come to the surface in these stories. In some cases, these tales go beyond our primal fears and go into the world of the surreal, opening up new ideas and new fears for us to process.’ – Black Sunday
‘There are ghosts, hints of supernatural, cavemen, science, and even a story about a haunted saucepan. That was personally one of my favorites.; But that was a slight problem, every time I finished a story I found myself saying “oh that one has to be one of my favorites now” and before I knew it, well, I had 13 favorite stories out of 13.’ – The Caffeinated Reader
‘The range of authors and stories suggests that the Weird is perhaps more an approach than a genre, demonstrating the Weird’s ability to discomfort and disturb … Women’s Weird is an essential read for any fan or scholar of Weird fiction, and we are indebted to both Handheld Press and Melissa Edmundson for performing this service.’ – The Fantasy Hive
‘It achieves something I find unusual in anthologies: it is a satisfying read that feels complete in and of itself. Though I had my favourites among the stories, there isn’t a single one I would remove, and the stories are really well-arranged so that you sweep through the different styles and emotions effortlessly.’ – A Cat, A Book and A Cup of Tea
The Times Literary Supplement reviewed Women’s Weird for Hallowe’en: ‘The collection is a deliberate effort to attenuate, in the horror tradition, the dominance of men like M R James, Arthur Machen, H P Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce, and restore to prominence innovative writers such as May Sinclair, Mary Butts and Margery Lawrence … The stories in Women’s Weird, spanning the period from the late nineteenth century to the eve of the Second World War, branch out from an older ghost-story tradition to “explore more universal imaginings of fear, unease and dread”. They show the continuing influence of Gothic and supernatural tropes and the effect of their collision with a modernizing world and women’s changing roles within it.’
Gabriela Frost wrote an essay for LucyWriters analysing the social commentary of the stories: ‘Women’s Weird invites us to ask: what did women writers in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain and America know to be truly frightening? … These women’s stories are not just overexcited fancies or plays on the public mood. They have a bearing on real life. They subtly extrapolate the traps and horrors not just of the supernatural – but of contemporary womanhood itself.’
From BSFA Review 9: ‘I … celebrate this anthology, and its thirteen stories, a number of which were entirely new to me. There isn’t a single weak story here. They’re often provocative, always entertaining, and they leave the reader in a thoughtful frame of mind.’
Amazing Stories were very impressed: ‘Another brilliant publication from Handheld Press, editor Melissa Edmundson has compiled a fitting collection of weird tales by a powerful class of women authors in the anthology Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890-1940. For those expecting typical ghost stories filled with mysterious supernatural elements familiar to the era, you’re about to be pleasantly surprised. Often filled with a social commentary that only women of the period can covey with such fluidity, the definition of “weird” becomes blurred and readers will find themselves pausing – a lot.’
Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz (1932)
‘The Fitzgeralds seemed to be incapable of even attending a party without leaving written traces of the occasion. Scholars have had a lot of material to rifle through while attempting to decide who copied whom and how much Scott discouraged his wife … for those wondering what Zelda did do, Handheld Press have reprinted Save Me The Waltz, her only completed novel, in a nice scholarly edition … Zelda excels at descriptions of places, witty phrases and bon mots; conversation is lively and loud, and some of the book’s best passages have the pull and snap of screwball comedy’, 18 April 2019, The London Review of Books
‘Templeton’s introduction to the current reprint illuminates the novel by providing an overview of the Fitzgeralds’ lives together and the period during which the novel was written … The novel draws heavily on autobiographical details including the broad strokes of many of the problems that contributed to her mental breakdown in 1930—a dysfunctional marriage, incipient alcoholism, exhausting ballet practice … There has always been a sense that there is a story about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald that has not yet been told and deserves to be’, 11 April 2019, Modernism/modernity
In the Times Literary Supplement, Joanna Scutts reviews our edition alongside the Variorum edition of Zelda’s husband’s work: ‘the much prettier Handheld Press edition of Save Me the Waltz is the latest in a series of “rediscoveries” of Zelda’s only novel, which still calls for explanation and, to an extent, justification.’
The F Scott Fitzgerald Review said: ‘both handsomely designed and conveniently priced for classroom purposes … includes explanatory notes, which are particularly helpful for a novel laden with literary allusions, flora and fauna, and ballet terminology … The real attraction in this edition, however, is the introduction by Erin E Templeton … she brings a fresh perspective to the book informed by recent developments in modernist studies’ (vol 17, 2019).
Read the articles about how Handheld came to republish Save Me the Waltz. Handheld Press interview Fitzgerald_News_2019
Nicola Griffith, So Lucky (2018)
‘So Lucky is a book that will change the way you view the world and stands as a testament to Griffith’s writing skills. This is not a long book, but I don’t think any readers will feel short-changed by that. The two essays and the interview at the end are a bonus and I read them equally avidly.’ – Crime Review
‘A terse and brutally urgent novel, So Lucky is a reminder that Griffith is one of the most important writers working today.’ DIVA magazine named So Lucky their Book of the Month for December 2018
‘A compact, brutal story of losing power and creating community … So Lucky is beautifully written, with a flexible, efficient precision that embodies the protagonist’s voice and character.’ New York Times Book Review
‘A psychological thriller, effective and chilling … A disconcerting but very necessary book.’ ― Dana Hansen, Chicago Review of Books
‘A short, fast-paced whirlwind of a novel … Spine tingling and in places downright terrifying.’ ― Independent
‘With great insight and power, Griffith chronicles one woman’s fight … the plot twists into a sophisticated thriller.’ ― Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture
Read Nicola’s interview on Disability Arts Online about how So Lucky fits into her activist life.
Inez Holden, Blitz Writing: Night Shift & It Was Different At the Time (1941 & 1943)
‘A number of years ago, the Furrowed Middlebrow blog mentioned a book that sounded like just my thing: Inez Holden’s Night Shift. A short documentary-style novel about the lives of workers in a Blitz-threatened factory over the course of a week? Sign me up! Unfortunately there was not a single copy for sale online anywhere in the world, not even for ludicrous sums of cash. Every now and then I’d have another look, and every time there would be nothing. Now Handheld have republished Night Shift, along with Holden’s It Was Different at the Time, her diaries of 1938-1941. It’s available! It’s affordable! It’s mine! And it was worth the wait.’ Caustic Cover Critic
‘Whether her dialogue is invented or recorded — probably a mix of both — Holden was expert at capturing a whole person in their words. Whether it’s a long recollection by Mabs, one of the factory workers in Night Shift that’s almost a one-act play about battling Romeos, or just a line or two, Holden’s gift for exposition via dialogue is exceptional.’ The Neglected Books Page
‘Night Shift was her most critically successful work, and is a largely autobiographical account of the lives of those who worked the night shift in a factory during the war, and publishing it alongside her diaries was a marvellous idea, as it allows you to then appreciate the real-life experiences that informed the events and characters she depicts. I absolutely loved reading these, and am delighted to have discovered Inez Holden.’ – Booksnob
Lucy Scholes in the Paris Review, writing about Holden’s other wartime novel There’s No Story There (which we’ll be publishing in 2021), said that Holden was ‘a writer of documentary realism with a serious socialist agenda, empathetically depicting the lives of the working classes’.
‘This edition combines two of these wartime texts, which can be seen as essential documents of the Blitz … Holden’s attention to the personalities and backgrounds of those she worked among, to their body language and habits of speech, renders her portrayals vivid and memorable.’ – Rod Mengham in the Times Literary Supplement, 20 September 2019
Peter Haring Judd, The Akeing Heart. Letters between Sylvia Townsend Warner, Valentine Ackland and Elizabeth Wade White (2013)
Helen Sutherland in the Sylvia Townsend Warner Journal (April 2020) definitely approved of our revised edition. ‘In reviewing [the original edition of] The Akeing Heart … I identified a number of shortcomings, some of which were sufficiently serious to damage the book considerably as a basis for further research. Nevertheless, in conclusion I argued that “in an ideal world The Akeing Heart would be picked up by a publisher, given the benefit of a firm editorial hand and issued in a revised edition”. Well, sometimes you just get lucky, and fortune, in the guise of Handheld Press, has smiled on The Akeing Heart, making the ideal actual … although the content is unchanged, the well-judged and sensitive editorial interventions have created an entirely different reading experience: the distractions are gone and the women’s voices can be clearly heard.’
‘Peter Haring Judd has curated the most thrilling, romantic and heartbreaking accounts of a major 20th century literary love story. Covering the period of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, in 1930s New York and Connecticut and in 1950s Dorset, this is an intense and beautifully written exploration of two decades in the lives of four women.’ DIVA magazine, 23 April 2018
Rose Macaulay What Not (1918)
‘What Not is barely mentioned in biographical writing about Macaulay, said Kate Macdonald at Handheld, “probably because it wasn’t much noticed at the time, due to its withdrawal and lack of advertising on its reissue. The plot’s themes and subject matter were also challenging, not anything like as accessible … as they are now”’ The Guardian (10 December 2018),
‘The book is a protest against social control, but a love story at heart. As Kitty and Nicholas’s love grows like an “embryo”, Macaulay emphasises its naturalness: “their relationship burgeoned like flowers in spring”. Her writing is stirring, funny, uniquely imaginative. This book should not be forgotten again’, The Guardian (28 March 2019),
‘published towards the beginning of one of her more fruitful periods, What Not is a forgotten gem in a prolific career’, The Times 13 April 2019
Margaret Drabble reviewed What Not in the Times Literary Supplement: ‘It is a more sombre work [than Brave New World], with a sense of end-of-war fatigue that has more in common with the mood of Orwell … full of interesting sociological and historical observations, about the status of women newly enrolled in government employment by the war machine (Macaulay herself had worked in the Ministry of Information, as had Wells and Arnold Bennett) and about minor points of etiquette, such as whether “you can suitably go to church with a dog in your muff”.’ 7 June 2019
‘This edition continues Handheld Press’s commitment to reprinting classic sf and fantasy, but this work is especially important as it presents Macaulay’s novel as she intended it.’ Paul March-Russell in Foundation, 2019.
‘The feel of the book, with its raw satire and a populace at breaking point, seems very relevant to Brexit Britain just now, so the Handheld Press’s re-publication is well-judged. A wonderfully complex book which questions whether being truly rational is better than being personally fulfilled …’ Hall’s Bookshop, on GoodReads.
From BSFA Review 9: ‘it probably makes sense to see What Not as a comically resigned lament for the impossibility of evading the cruel stupidity of life without imposing a system that is even crueller and more stupid. However, there is also just the faintest suggestion in Kitty’s momentary out-of-body experience, in which she realises the entire society depicted in What Not is no more than a “queer little excited corner of the universe”, that other worlds are possible.’
From the Women’s Revew of Books: ‘Throughout What Not, Macaulay’s writing moves smoothly from concise observational beauty … to biting social commentary lampooning both public pretensions and unchecked governmental power. What Not has a delicious snark, which, for all its antiquated turns of phrase, makes the novel feel surprisingly fresh. With its depiction of a successful revolt as a mass movement, rather than the fight of a few enlightened individuals, What Not is a rare dystopia. Asking many questions about the ideologies wielded by charismatic leaders in the service of authoritarianism, whilst centering the experiences of working, independent women, What Not is a century old and yet unexpectedly relevant.’ (June 2019)
Vonda N McIntyre, The Exile Waiting
From BSFA Review 9: ‘Unfortunately, [Vonda N McIntyre] never got to hold this handsome volume before passing away in April 2019. The inclusion of an excellent and detailed afterword by Una McCormack, as well as a list of McIntyre’s writings and helpful suggestions for further reading, make this an invaluable memorial. Also included is a fascinating short story, ‘Cages’, appearing in print for the first time since 1972.’
From Foundation 135 (March 2020): ‘McIntyre’s characters are plunged into both a literal and a metaphorical void, from out of which a light is shed upon the illusion and violence of power. In retrospect, a lineage can be drawn from McIntyre to such contemporary authors as Becky Chambers and Kameron Hurley. As readers, not only of sf’s past but also its future, we are hugely benefited by having the roots of that genealogy restored and made available to us.’
Gerald O’Donovan, Vocations (1922)
‘O’Donovan left the priesthood due to strained relations with his conservative and philistine bishop. His alienation from the church was accelerated by the encyclical letter of 1907 Pascendi dominici gregis, a condemnation of the errors of Modernism. In the story of the Curtin sisters, he indicts late Victorian Catholic values, warped by the privileging of religious vocations over marriage. He is scathing about the waste of youthful potential, especially of women, and realistic about how the pursuit of personal autonomy carries a high price.’ The Dublin Review of Books, November 2018
Jane Oliver & Ann Stafford, Business as Usual (1933)
Three months before publication, the first review was a five out of five cats rating from A Cat, A Book and a Cup of Tea! ‘It dives into the mundanity of everyday life, but thrives on the strength of its narrator and her witty skewering of the society around her.’
From the London Review Bookshop blog: ‘sometimes I accidentally manage to pick up a book so joyful that even my bleak outlook on life is momentarily altered … [Business as Usual is] told through her letters home and interdepartmental memos, and it will make you wish you still wrote letters, and lament the fact that, even if you did, they’d never be as witty and charming as Hilary’s.’
From Red Magazine online: ‘It pushed all my bookish buttons … This is my platonic ideal of a novel.’
From Dove Grey Reader: ‘I was delighted when it arrived tissue-wrapped to reveal that delightful cover. It was one of those to open at the breakfast table, start reading and carry on … If you enjoyed books like High Wages by Dorothy Whipple or Ladies Paradise by Emile Zola then you will certainly enjoy Business As Usual, not only for its wonderful insights into life in a London department store but also for insights into women’s lives in the 1930s.’
From Shiny New Books: ‘In the depiction of Hilary’s colleagues and the department store’s customers we get a wonderful portrait of 1930s retail, which included the important lending library that so many people of this period relied upon. It feels like a very realistic, faithful portrait – humorously depicted. This story of a year in Hilary’s life is absolutely delightful, Hilary’s voice is so warm, witty and bright she is immediately engaging. Striding out on her own for the first time, Hilary has to negotiate all the pitfalls of working in retail and living independently away from her family.’
From Katrina Robinson: ‘Business As Usual (published March 2020) by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford, is dedicated to ‘The People Who Work From Nine to Six’, and has a gorgeous retro cover, this one reproduced from a 1932 issue of The Morris Owner (sort of like a 1930s Top Gear magazine), with in-line quirky line drawings by Ann Stafford. It’s the story of Hilary Fane, with newly minted university degree, recently engaged to be married, and determined to take a job for a year before the wedding to support herself. Told through Hilary’s letters to parents and fiancé, and through interdepartmental memos, the world of mid-20th century London retail life is brought into focus … Sharply observed, ruefully amusing, and a joyous rediscovery.’
JacquiWine said: ‘an absolutely delightful novel, likely to appeal to fans of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Diary of a Provincial Lady and 84 Charing Cross Road. Very highly recommended indeed, particularly for readers interested in British social history’.
From bagfullofbooks: ‘This is just a lovely, lovely book. So endearing and just what I needed at this time.’
From Bookword: ‘It’s a very satisfying novel with some especially attractive features … The letters, memos and drawings all add to the charm … Hilary’s breathless and upbeat attitude carry her through the difficulties of having very little money in London and through the love story that emerges in these pages … Along the way we have learned much about the life of the working girl and what went on behind the scenes in big stores and subscription libraries in the ‘30s.’
From First Page to Last liked it very much: ‘I loved everything about this delightful book, from the first letter to the last memo. It is one that I know I will return to many times. The very definition of feel-good. Highly recommended.’
A Life In Books loved it: ‘a glorious piece of escapism … hugely entertaining. Hilary is funny and bright, her letters full of gentle fun-poking often illustrated with amusing line drawings’.
Eddie Thomas Petersen, After the Death of Ellen Keldberg (2013), translated by Toby Bainton
‘The author’s professional experience as a filmmaker finds its way into the excellent atmospheric portrait of the place and the people who inhabit it … Petersen has created an interesting and surprising tale, with touches of macabre humour. It’s a slow-burner of a murder mystery that lingers in the reader’s mind for a long time, as much as blood on snow and the smell of freshly caught fish. Snow and darkness hide old painful secrets and new alliances promise the solving of mysteries and resolving of painful personal issues. Don’t expect fireworks and you will enjoy this subtle analysis of family relations.’ Crime Review.
‘a thoughtful, atmospheric novel that’ll win plenty of fans … Eddie Thomas Petersen has put together an exciting narrative that’s also laden with interesting ideas, all making for a surprisingly rich experience – whether it’s exploring nature vs. nurture or the purpose of art. It’s shrewdly paced, at times beautiful and at times horrific, and it’s always compelling. An excellent read as the dark winter months start to draw in.’ IndieLitFic
J Slauerhoff, Adrift in the Middle Kingdom, translated by David McKay
‘a gritty, realistic, and beautifully detailed snapshot of life in inter-war Amoy and Shanghai’, from China sf commentator Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of China
‘Slauerhoff’s depiction of China is gritty and uncompromising’ The Fantasy Hive
From Simon Lavery, ‘It’s expressed in terms of a modernist European alienation narrative, and comes to its hallucinatory, mystical conclusion in a kind of Chinese-Elysian poppyfield of earthly-heavenly delights.’
‘McKay has delivered a fluent English text, choosing to smooth out Slauerhoff’s terse style.’ Anna P H Geurts for The Low Countries
Elizabeth von Arnim, The Caravaners (1909)
‘There is so much comedy here – the Baron shamed into performing menial tasks which he sees as being beneath him, problems with horses, mud, cultural differences galore. Elizabeth von Arnim has an eye for such absurdities and reproduces them gloriously.’ – from HeavenAli
‘Perhaps the greatest achievement of this wholly delightful book is the way our view of Otto is gradually modulated as the story proceeds. At first he appears simply like a buffoon and it’s only too easy to laugh at his ridiculous views and at his total inability to understand and interpret the feelings and actions of his fellow travellers. As time goes on, though, he seems increasingly pathetic, lost and confused. Alas, he has learned nothing from his week’s holiday.’ – from Harriet Devine
‘The Caravaners comes with an excellent introduction, and useful notes at the back. It’s an entertaining and extremely funny book, as well as being evidence of von Arnim’s incredible skill as a writer.’ – Shiny New Books, September 2019
‘It was a joy from start to finish. I would have read it in one sitting if life and time allowed but to be honest I would have missed a treat had I done so. This intelligent and deeply humorous book is one to be savoured.’ – Bookbound
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Kingdoms of Elfin (1977)
‘Handheld Classics’ republication is a triumph, complete with a beautiful Arthur Rackham cover and a blurb from Neil Gaiman.’ Paperback Preview Book of the Month, The Bookseller, 27 July 2018.
‘A book for anyone who has heard the horns of Elfin in the distance at twilight, as much as it is for readers who crave fine literature and are certain that elves and their kingdoms are bosh.’ Neil Gaiman
‘The subtlety of Warner’s vision, and ultimately of her empathy towards her fellow beings, is a refusal despite all inclinations to separate the rational and the irrational, the material and the immaterial, the earthly and the yearning for something else. She might have dismissed faith but she understood the impulse towards an elsewhere.’ The Times Literary Supplement, 26 October 2018.
‘a conception of Fairy that is dominant in English-language writing —a magical land populated by strange beings who look like humans and act like sociopaths. Terry Pratchett’s elves, for example, who are terrific and beget terror. Warner’s kingdoms obviously belong to this tradition of Fairy’. Strange Horizons June 2019
Nick Hubble in the British Science Fiction Association Review, summer 2019: ‘Under the surface there is something inexorable which gives these stories an exquisite, but nonetheless mortally sharp, edge.’
‘The writing is beautiful, full of subtle literary flourish. More than once I found myself rereading sentences simply in order to savour their perfectly-formed elegance, their economy. Towards the end of her long life of writing, Warner was clearly a fairy queen of sentence-weaving. Her style is sly, witty, beautifully-observed, luscious. As I say, a gem of a book.’ – Simon Kewin
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Of Cats and Elfins (2020)
The Guardian liked it very much: ‘Each tale is a beautifully realised imaginative world, resonant with folklore and a rich appreciation of nature.’
The Times Literary Supplement found the stories ‘cut from crystalline prose, they are strange, wonderful and often wickedly funny, as when Apollo responds to a farmer’s complaint: “Stupid prayers are often soonest answered, for no deity can stand them”. This is storytelling as enchantment and it feels like an answered prayer to fall under Warner’s spell.’
Fantasy Hive was keen: ‘”The Duke of Orkney’s Leonardo” is a story of an ill-fated child’s gruesome transformation, with undercurrents of queerness and sly undermining of gender norms. It could sit happily with the best stories in The Kingdoms of Elfin, and makes the collection worth the asking price alone … The bulk of the collection is given over to The Cat’s Cradle Book. Warner, like most right-thinking people, loved cats and she and her partner Valentine Ackland looked after many. The Cat’s Cradle Book brilliantly captures the character and sensibility of cats. Much like Warner’s fairies, they are sleek, beautiful, charming yet capricious, and self-reliant; existing parallel but aside to mere human concerns. Warner brilliantly draws the line between the stark coolness of folktales and the attitude of cats by attributing her folktale-inflected stories to cats, reminding us that the earlier versions of fairy tales and legends are from an older time in human history, and are much concerned with darkness and death.’
Shiny New Books liked it a LOT: ‘can’t recommend highly enough’
Desperate Reader loved it so much they didn’t want to finish it: ‘it gave me that magical feeling of finding something that could have been written just to amuse me. It’s a sense of recognition within a book that I associate more with childhood and teen years than being an adult reader so finding it here was a real gift.’
Sandra Unerman in the BSFA Review said: ‘Cat lovers be warned: the cats die as often as other characters. Sylvia Townsend Warner’s settings and characters are both recognisable and intriguingly strange and her plots take unexpected turns. But her impersonal style gives her narratives a particular, sardonic flavour, which the reader can relish, while being kept at a distance.’
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