In these vivid explorations of love, loss and longing, novelist Sue Hampton uses humour as well as poetry, but character always leads.
Varied and distinctive, these stories range from sharp to poignant and contemporary to lyrical and fable-like. It’s a collection full of humanity.
I don’t often read short stories so I thought I’d just dip in to Ravelled and read the first one as I had just finished another book. Before I knew where I was, an entire block of time had vanished and I had devoured every one! I was immediately gripped by the first in the collection, The Boarder, as there is a husband called Steve. My husband is called Steve. The protagonist, Kate, is grieving her recently deceased father. I’m grieving my recently deceased father. Kate’s father had been unhappy at boarding school. My father-in-law had been unhappy in boarding school. In Away for Christmas, I felt Gerry was exactly the kind of woman I could become and she was the character I liked most in all of the tales. In If, Tess is the same age as me. There are Lindas in Ravelled and Susan wants to be known as Sue, just like my own sister Sue. It felt as if Sue Hampton was writing something that I could immediately relate to and that she was also prepared to lay bare her own soul in the telling. I wonder whether being a woman of a certain age means that this collection appeals so much?
In fact I loved all Sue Hampton’s writing. Sometimes her meaning is ever so slightly obscure so that the reader can bring their own interpretation to the story and extract a meaning that makes it entirely personal to them. She creates poetry with her words and people in whom the reader can instantly believe and with whom they can empathise. I encountered more emotion and better drawn people in each short story that I often find in lengthy novels.
I loved the themes of love, loss, loneliness, forgiveness, youth, age and relationships that form the basis of every story. There is an intensity of passion, hope and love that shines through even the most adverse moments in the stories. There is also great humour. Read where Tess needs to keep her handkie in If!
From rarely reading short stories, Sue Hampton has persuaded me that I must read more. Ravelled is a gorgeous collection; beautifully written and touching so that I recommend it most highly.
I’m going to start using Ravelled in my classes – it’s like a masterclass in how to write a short story.
Stephen Carver, Creative Writing Tutor and author
“I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this wonderfully diverse, challenging, beautifully written and understated collection. Each story took me to a new place and every character came alive on the page. My favourite – in the sense that I am still thinking and smiling about its warmth – is Sid’s New Start. The gentleness of the characters, the quietness of the story, the delicate twist and the feeling of optimism and hope at the end …..that really got me. It’s a wonderfully written story with totally credible characters. ”
John MacKenna, playwright, novelist and poet, winner of the Hennessy Literary Award, the Irish Times Fiction Award and the C Day-Lewis Award.
“Sue Hampton’s Ravelled is a classic set of short stories, but better. The author delivers the concise drama we expect from good short stories, but she drives the story line deep into the realm of the heart. The reader does not need a passport to visit the underworld, the heavens, the neighborhood, family members, and ghosts. The last time I remember following characters toward their most profound insights like this was in reading the late poetry of Dr. William Carlos Williams, who had seen everything, including the likeness of his dead father on a subway. Luckily we don’t have to die to see the spirit world. It’s right here, embodied, spoken plainly, spoken musically, in the diction, dialogue and action of Sue Hampton’s Ravelled. Be foolish not to say yes to this invitation to the human voyage!”
Marilyn Kallet, Professor at the University of Tennessee and author of 17 books, including The Love That Moves Me, poetry from Black Widow Press
“..Nine stories… create distinct worlds populated by credible and mostly sympathetic characters… lead rich inner lives that are vividly described. You might say these are tales about dealing with life’s challenges: grief, isolation, loss, prejudice etc… The stories and characters are equally interesting. Some themes recur: the need to be accepted for who we are, for example, and the vital importance of integrity in general. The quality of the writing is consistently high, occasionally breathtaking, and it reaches its peak in the penultimate tale, Included.”
David Guest, editor, Berkhamsted Living
Here are some quotes from the fifty-five reviews of individual stories – by authors, librarians, teachers and other readers – included in the book:
“completely engaging” “well-crafted” “sensitively and intelligently written” “very moving… deep and believable” “heart-warming” “sparkling, funny” “sheer poetry” “witty” “emotional” “tender… human and humane” “beautifully nuanced” “rich with meaning and never sentimental” “daring” “magic pieces of dialogue” “atmospheric” “liberating” “delicious” “often melodic” “vivid imagery” “dripping with sensuality” “One of the most exquisitely beautiful and poignant stories I have ever read.”
“I simply wasn’t prepared for how damn good your writing is! I found your insights and capture of people’s feelings, words, personalities and predicaments just absolutely wonderful in that under-stated yet sharply resonant way that only the best short story writers can express. You’re up there with the greats in my opinion. I’m so pleased to have read your work. Thank you for the courage it must have taken for you to write like this.” Philippa Jones
Cover image is a detail from a portrait of Sue Hampton by Sheelagh Frew Crane.
Here’s a video with three readings and locations, answers to readers’ questions and a full-length look at the portrait. It offers insight into process and intentions, and illustrates the diversity of RAVELLED.