literary journalism

Frances Leviston’s ‘The Voice in My Ear’

Truth be told, I was wary of a short-story collection by a poet, the two disciplines being as different from one another as photography and film-making. But colour me corrected: Frances Leviston’s debut work of fiction positively knocked my socks off. Each of the 10 stories in The Voice in My Ear is about a different woman called Claire — an apt appellation for characters illuminating aspects of modern life.

“Broderie Anglaise”, which was shortlisted for the 2015 BBC Short Story Award, explores the relationship between a “boomerang kid” and her mother. Living at home after three years away, Claire sets out to sew a dress in secret to wear to her cousin’s wedding. She fantasises about upstaging the bride, choosing fabric in a pale blue that “would make any off-whites or creams placed beside it look like old dentures in a water glass”.

Claire’s mother hovers at the threshold of her childhood bedroom, offering care but thwarting her daughter’s efforts to fashion a new self. Eventually Claire has to ask for help with the dress, and her endeavours at independence unravel in an hour as her mother unstitches her handiwork and decides to “let the seams out after all”.

“Patience” tells the story of a “synthetic” — a care robot hired to look after another Claire’s mother while she goes to Holland on a fellowship. “Is it common behaviour to abandon your elderly mother to a machine?” her mother asks the robot, fittingly named Patience. “ ‘Actually,’ says Patience, ‘it is.’ ”…

Read the full article online in the Financial Times

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