Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales by Margaret Atwood


“A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire, and a crime committed long ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite.”

Nine Wicked Tales:

  1. Alphinland
  2. Revenant
  3. Dark Lady
  4. Lusus Naturae
  5. The Freeze-Dried Groom
  6. I dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth
  7. The Dead Hand Loves You
  8. Stone Mattress
  9. Torching the Dusties

I don’t normally read short stories, but this book came highly recommended so I thought I’d give it a go. The only other book I’ve read that somewhat resembled this was ’10 sorry tales’ – a selection of (i think) Gothic short stories for children (I read them about 7 or 8 years ago) which I remember enjoying profusely.

The stories in ‘stone mattress bear some resemblance to ’10 sorry tales’ as all of them are based around the topics of death, decay and old age (or something of similar fashion).

The writing style and language choices were so colourful that I regret not discovering Margaret Atwood’s work before now, despite her name appearing in many of the reading lists I’ve come across. One thing I would say about Atwood’s writing is that much of it is explicit and in places quite crass but if you can ignore that and focus on the plot and the characters it doesn’t really affect the book too much.

The first three stories (Alphinland, Revenant and Dark Lady) were all linked together with characters running through all three tales. It was like one longer story told from three different points of view. Because of this I felt the tone of the writing changed with each tale as the speaker in each instant brought new thoughts and feelings into the mix.

The next story (Lusus Naturae) was only 10 pages long and yet it had a lot of personality and didn’t suffer from lack of development like many short stories do.

‘The Freeze-Dried Groom’ and ‘I dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth’ were both entertaining (and moderately gruesome) and I enjoyed whizzing through them even if they were a little….well…strange!

‘The Dead Hand Loved You’ and ‘Stone Mattress’ were my favourite stories; both told tales of planned revenge but with polar opposite outcomes – both of which I loved.

‘Torching the Dusties’ was quite sad in the end, but not in a ‘cry-your-eyes-out’ sort of way. It had a nostalgic feeling to it, and all the characters were gentle and wise. It was a great story for the book to end in as it gave a feeling of closure to the novel as a whole.

I realize that I haven’t exactly gone into much detail here, but I feel that to enjoy this book properly, you have to be unprepared for the wackiness of each tale!

I surprised myself by enjoying this book and would recommend it, however with the warning that it is not a book for everyone, so read it with an open mind!

3.5/5 rating.


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An aspiring cellist, I absolutely adore reading, and even if it means squeezing it into the cracks of my busy life I am still determined to read more! For me, a truly great novel isn't just flashy with a fast paced plot and glossy characters, it is good literature that traps you with every word and entices you to read on. I write quick-to-read book reviews on CreativeThoughtBubble, as well as occasionally publishing short stories of my own.

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