Review: Ravished by Anna Vaught (2022)

Blurb

Ravished, subtitled A Series of Reflections on Age, Sex, Death, and Judgement, is the second collection from Anna Vaught. These are peculiar tales, weird fiction, gothic, unusual, full of literary allusion, threaded through with classical and Welsh reference, occasionally starring the author’s relatives and the Virgin Mary. Sometimes funny, morbid, potentially inspiring, Ravished is both revolting and pretty; both awful and yet optimistic in the stress it places on playful language and the abundance of the imagination. The stories explore revenge, angels, an encounter with faith, death and loss and are full of off-kilter experiences, such as a chat with the holy spirit on a bench, a love story in an embalming parlour, passing the time with the man who’s going to bury you and why you should never underestimate the power of the landscape or the weird outcast you passed by.

Review

Many thanks to Reflex Press for providing me with a copy of Ravished in exchange for an honest review – I apologise sincerely for the delay! I did read this wonderful collection before publication, but have been a very slack book blogger these past few months. I promise to do better in 2023!

I’m a huge fan of Anna Vaught’s writing. I loved her 2020 novel Saving Lucia and her previous short story collection, Famished, so I was delighted to see that she had a new book coming out. The short stories I’d read by her before were beautiful and strange, mesmerising in their use of language, and this collection is no different.

The titles alone are works of art – the contents page reads like a poem. From ‘A Welsh Grave Digger Laments (or Why It Is Better to Be Dead in Wales)’ to ‘Love, Now and Then, on a Primrose Bank’ to ‘The Unguents of Ada Morgan,’ the richness of the treasure that lies within is hinted at from the very start. Death is threaded through the stories not as an abstract concept but a physical presence – graves, embalming parlours, the work of laying the dead to rest forms an integral part of the book. And yet despite this morbid fascination, there is comfort here, too – the beautiful shapes that Vaught sculpts with her words represent a brave, playful, intriguing engagement with all the strange dark corners of existence.

As in Famished, the narrator of the stories often engages directly with the reader – we are ‘my dears,’ ‘my sweet ones,” implicated in the tapestry being woven by the frequent use of “you” as a direct address. I think this speaks to the project that the author is undertaking (gravedigger pun intended) here – Vaught is delving deep into the realms of gothic-tinged horror and weirdness in order not only to bring to our attention the strangeness of it, but also the beauty – she is excavating what we might be too afraid to unearth on our own. In that sense the stories – and the author – function as a kind of gentle guide, a calm hand pressed against our backs as we confront the other-worldly, the inexplicable, the dark parts.

Anna Vaught’s prose often gives me the sensation of being rocked, the cadences and rhythms running through it lulling me into a kind of dream-like state, in which the peculiar nature of the stories becomes temporarily familiar, a new normal where nothing is, in fact, normal. It’s a fascinatingly immersive experience, and one that I struggle to articulate fully, as you can probably tell!

My favourite stories were the ones with Evans and Myfanwy, their relationship traced with such tenderness and delicacy, as well as the delicious interlude of ‘The Bookshelves of Amos Biblio’ – one for all book lovers to enjoy. But it’s the sum total of the work that has stayed with me more than any individual moment or story – I love how layered and carefully crafted the book is, and how well it sits beside her other works that I have read. I’ll read anything Anna Vaught writes, and luckily, she is prolific – with a new novel coming later his year from Renard Press – and I’d recommend her work to anyone wanting to discover a truly original literary voice.

Ravished by Anna Vaught is published by Reflex Press and is available to purchase here.

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