Book #59

Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

Three sharp and powerful short stories from Katherine Mansfield, one of the genre's all-time masters.

I’ve been growing incredibly disenchanted with the Little Black Classics range recently. Having bought them all in the anticipation of reading new styles, finding writers I love previously unknown to me, and just generally expanding my tiny mind, the last few in the collection have disappointed me to some degree. Then Miss Brill comes rearing up to the top of my to be read pile like the shiniest new coin I had ever seen in my life.

All three of these short stories are glorious. Miss Brill itself is a wonderful little story on our detachment from our own feelings, and the spaces we create to convince ourselves the world isn’t quite so awful as we perceive. Miss Brill constructs a world she loves and participates in, before being woefully reminded of her own loneliness and neglect. It begins beautifully before the despair seeps in; Mansfield expertly renders Miss Brill’s coping mechanisms as objects of pity. I found it tragic and heart-rending.

The other two stories focused on love; one on bonds becoming dissolved, and the other on obsession, property, and jealousy. All stories had a real vein of melancholy running through them, all characters’ plights could be resolved with some communication (which they all sadly lacked), and Mansfield has written each of them with such an utter perfection. I was rapt, and desperately didn’t want to reach the end of the meagre fifty pages. Her characters are so unapologetically human, yet there is still an air of mystery to them all.

Miss Brill is a success for Penguin here, and could even be my favourite of the seventy-two I’ve read so far. I am very keen now to seek out more Mansfield, and my faith in the choices Penguin have made for the collection has been somewhat restored. Let’s hope I have more little gems in store with this range of wee books.