Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link

Beware. The book pictured below is a Pandora’s box of tall tales and weird creatures…

Since I read Pretty Monsters over two weeks ago I’ve been taking a little while to consider how I feel about it. Link’s collection of short stories contains ten different tales, each of which are totally original. The reader is invited to suspend disbelief and is drawn into a world where magical characters and objects are part of everyday life. The first story introduces us to a young boy who digs up what he thinks is the grave of his dead girlfriend in order to retrieve his poems – only to wish he hadn’t. Then there is the story of two twins who live in a creepy old house and whose babysitter has a strange magic hat. In another tale a two young children are sold to wizards who never seem to come out of the lofty towers in which they live.

My reaction to each of the stories varied greatly, which is probably not surprising given how different they all are to each other. If anything, the only common thread between them is that they are all, well…strange. Some stories, I loved such as The Faery Handbag, (how could I not love a Scrabble playing grandmother with a magical handbag?), but others I couldn’t to get to grips with. I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I read the stories separately rather than in succession. At times, the mental effort of jumping into a totally new world which, in some cases were very obscure left me feeling a little exasperated. There was one story about aliens that I gave up on in a matter of moments.

Pretty Monsters is a fascinating read. I think most likely I would have loved this when I was younger and had a better imaginative faculty, as well as more time on my hands to ponder the more befuddling stories. I remember being fascinated when I read Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber or The Virago Book of Fairy Tales which tick the ‘quirky’ box in a similar way. Link’s writing and the scope of her vision is something special and she conjures up weird, beautiful characters. So while I wasn’t quite in the mood for such a mental work-out (shame on me), I would like to revisit her of the stories individually in the future. Perhaps on a cold winter’s night…

My rating:

7 out of 10

What books have you read that tested your imagination?

13 responses to “Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link

  1. I loved this book when I read it last year. It took me right out of my comfort zone. I expected to hate it, because modern day fairy tales aimed at young adults are soooo not my thing, but there was something about these stories which really appealed to me. I did, however, take my time reading the book, because reading short stories in quick succession never really works for me.

    • novelinsights

      I think I definitely need to take my time with short stories too and perhaps read in between others!

  2. I haven’t read this book, but I think it would test my imagination as well. Your review made me curious and that cover looks great. I think I need to get my hands on this sometime.

  3. This does sound interesting… I tend to steer well clear of ‘young adult’ books (they were teen books in my day…) but I do have a soft spot for modernised fairy tales. And a book with twins AND Scrabble? Sounds like my kind of thing. But I have to be in the right mood for short stories, and right now I don’t think I am…

    • novelinsights

      If you do read it definitely make sure you’re in the mood for short stories as I think that was my problem! Lesson learned I guess…

  4. I read somewhere that Link’s stories are often compared to Neil Gaiman’s. As a fan of Gaiman’s, I’m already sold. But you did mention a magical handbag. That’s pretty hard to resist too!

  5. I have this on the TBR pile and have been mulling over when to read it because I really do love fairy tales be the old new or in between.

    I have to say though with short stories I do find it best to read them with breaks in between because they get all muddled in my head and like books you need a little time to digest each and everyone of them.

  6. I took Link’s first collection, Stranger Things Happen on holiday years ago, without really knowing much about her style — and found it pretty hard going. Several years later, when I felt I was a ‘better reader’ (i.e. better at understanding fiction and getting the most out of it), I tried again with Magic for Beginners (I believe that some of the stories in Pretty Monsters are collected in those other two books), and definitely appreciated it more — but I think you’re right that Link’s stories are better read separately.

    The last book that really tested my imagination was New Model Army by Adam Roberts. It’s an excellent book, but completely different from anything I’ve read before; I literally have no name for how it made me feel (in a good way!).

  7. I just finished reading Pretty Monsters and I think I probably had the same reaction as you. I liked some of the stories much more than the others. It was definitely varied!

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