It’s always fascinating to read short stories written by your favourite author. Without the luxury of a longer page-count, they’re forced to hone their craft and get out of their comfort zone, and often some of their best work can be found in the short story format. Besides which, a lot can be said with just a few words. As Joanne Harris herself points out in her foreword, short stories: “provoke questions, whereas most novels tend to try and answer them.”
Harris is perhaps best known for Chocolat, and most of her novels are so full of sensory description that you can almost see, smell, taste and feel what she’s describing. However, the twenty-two short stories in Jigs & Reels (2004) are more interested in ideas than the five senses, and though they’re quite disparate in content (having been previously published in a range of magazines), there are a couple of recurring themes and subjects: the sexualisation of children and the marginalization of the elderly in particular.
There are retold fairy tales, urban fantasies, a couple of science fiction stories, and even some horror (as she mentions in her foreword, people are so familiar with her as the author of Chocolat that they forget she also wrote The Evil Seed). Each one comes with a brief introduction, in which Harris outlines her inspiration for the tale.
Any fan of Harris will recognize her distinct descriptive style, and there are plenty of weird and wonderful things to discover in these stories: a new perspective on the ugly stepsister, a school reunion for a class of witches, a contemporary little mermaid who gives up her fins for all the wrong reasons, a bizarre cookbook that calls up ungodly spirits, the characters of an unfinished story that eventually come for the author … it’s like a chocolate box of treats.