#BookReview The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

About the book

Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman for whom Edward Vlll abdicated in 1936, ended her life as the prisoner of her lawyer who would not allow anyone – friend, foe or journalist – to visit her in her Paris flat. Rose Tremain takes this true story and transforms it into an imaginative and ironic fiction. Her thesis is that Wallis, gaga and bed-ridden, has forgotten the king who gave up an empire for love of her.

The other stories in this magnificent collection range over a variety of themes, equally original and unexpected. An East German border guard, redundant after the Berlin Wall comes down in 1989, imagines that he might still have a purpose in life: he tries to reach Russia by bicycling across the hostile wastes of Poland. A jilted man gets his revenge. A baby grows wings. A character in an Impressionist painting escapes from his ‘frame’ – or does he? And there’s a Christmas story set in a seedy hotel…

Over a million Rose Tremain books sold

‘A writer of exceptional talent … Tremain is a writer who understands every emotion’ Independent I

‘There are few writers out there with the dexterity or emotional intelligence to rival that of the great Rose Tremain’ Irish Times

‘Tremain has the painterly genius of an Old Master, and she uses it to stunning effect’ The Times

‘Rose Tremain is one of the very finest British novelists’ Salman Rushdie

‘Tremain is a writer of exemplary vision and particularity. The fictional world is rendered with extraordinary vividness’ Marcel Theroux, Guardian

Published by Vintage Books

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I found this book in a library sale and the title immediately intrigued me! It was only when I opened up the book that I found it’s a collection of short stories – the Wallis Simpson story is the first one and the longest at around 46 pages long and it sets the tone for this collection of weird, sometimes wonderful, and sometimes flat short stories.

Beginning with Wallis it’s a fascinating concept that she’s forgotten who she is and swears at people who called her Duchess. There were so many glimpses of what could have been a wonderful longer story of a woman struggling with identity and illness, but it just fell a little flat for me in that it tried to do too much in such a short space of time. I would have loved to have read more of this one and done without some of the other much shorter stories!

The others in the collection were a mixed bag of the often very weird, quite dark and some instantly forgettable! One of the more fascinating stories was one of the shortest – Death of an Advocate – of a character in a painting who is viewing over the scene that surrounds him and wondering why he’s cold and everyone on the picnic rug is seemingly oblivious to his concerns.

Moth was also another intriguing story – very dark and set in a trailer park and centred around Pete who lived there with her 2 children and was always known for her crafting. And then strange things start happening to one of her children. Very bizarre but very readable and slightly heartbreaking too!

I think the problem with a lot of short story collections is that some of the stories don’t always grab you and that can put you off reading more. But this collection has enough to keep you turning the pages, I loved the darkness of them (there is swearing in some of the stories so watch out if you’re offended easily!) but it did make for an interesting and imaginative reading experience!



4 thoughts on “#BookReview The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

  1. I’ve enjoyed both Rose Tremain books I’ve read – The Gustav Sonata and The Colour. Like you, I would have been attracted by the title but maybe a little disappointed to find only one of the stories was about her. I think it’s a huge task for any writer to create a collection of short stories each of which are consistently strong. Like dipping into a box of Quality Street, we just have to resign ourselves to the fact we’re not going to get all (in my case) purple ones.


    • This was my first Rose Tremain book so I am intrigued to pick up some of her others as she seems to have a quirky style! Will check out your recommendations! And you are dead right about short story collections – you can have my purple Quality Street chocs though in exchange for the Strawberry Delights!! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • Her book The Gustav Sonata I mentioned I thought was brilliant for the first two thirds and then rather disappointing in the final third. If you do get round to reading it I’ll be interested to see if you feel the same. It was shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2017 but didn’t win.

        Liked by 1 person

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