Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses by Caroline England

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses

Caroline England’s collection Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses (ACHUKAbooks, 2012) brings the short story form to its zenith. A dozen stellar stories are filled with prose that surprises and hooks the reader, very often in the first line. The collection is inhabited by characters that are lovelorn, nostalgic, tragic, the keepers of secrets and much more. Many of the stories are family stories that traverse the dark side of human nature. They often begin one way and turn in a surprising direction. “The Bees Knees” borders on the grotesque, while the Alfred Hitchcock-like ending of “Heart” is a stunner.

England employs first, second, or third person narration with a point of view that is quite intriguing. One such story, “Words,” is told in third person with very little dialog. It is dramatic as we see the protagonist from the watchful narrator’s perspective, sometimes wide-lensed and distant and sometimes internal, as the narrator omnisciently reports the character’s thoughts and feelings.

“Today is one of the many family stories. What makes this story so interesting, again, is the point of view. It begins innocently with first-person narration—“Today I wrote to Richard.”—but as the story reveals itself, it becomes complex and layered. England creates incredible depth through the clever use of several techniques. The narrator never changes yet there are shifting points of view that present other characters’ perceptions.

In his essay “From Long Shots to X-Rays” David Jauss writes, “point of view is more a matter of where the language is coming from than it is of person.” And that is precisely what is happening in “Today.” The story unfolds in poignant increments and the reader may not see the entire story—not see “it” coming—until the last page even though there are subtle hints along the way, changes in tone or character voice. There is a sublime economy of words—masterful storytelling.

Likewise, in other stories the narrators are present, yet they reveal little of themselves. Less is so much more. A turn of a phrase, a short sentence of dialog or just a word or two carries double meaning. Such is the case in “Nothing Broken: the “blackout blinds” (being blind to the outside), “virgin” (innocence), and the evocative “cheeses, orange, white, yellow, blue, some waxy, some curdled with deep red tomatoes and onion to match.” The cheeses are ordered from fresh to not-so-fresh, implying a descent or passage of time. The ripe tomatoes followed by the onion hint of a fertile lushness chased with something sweet and bitter.

Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses is one of the finest collections of short stories I have read—smart, provocative writing. It is a collection for readers and writers alike.

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Caroline England prefers writing to dusting, ironing, vacuuming and washing-up. Born a Yorkshire lass, she studied law at Manchester University and stayed over the border. Caroline became a partner in a solicitors practice and instigated her jottings when she deserted the law to bring up her three lovely daughters. In addition to the publication of her short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, and her first novel, A Slight Diversion, Caroline has stories and poems published in Toasted Cheese and variety of literary magazines. Despite her best endeavors, Carolyn’s writing always veers to the dark side. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter: @CazEngland.
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Shelley Carpenter is Toasted Cheese‘s reviews editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

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