In a book of trees, dragonflies and birds, stories flit and alight on wings crafted from printed paper. Each page contains a world of sunlight and shade, many trailing heartbreak, maltreatment or the bruises of being misunderstood,
Author Sandra Arnold’s heroes are strong-willed, sensitive souls who are often spirited away by the end of the page and a half that comprises their world.
As I read, I could visualise each setting vividly, and my head filled with branches of sun-dappled leaves. It reminded me of my own childhood in trees, and of living more inside imaginary worlds than the so-called real world. Flash fiction is a form that requires immense discipline, and Arnold paints carefully selected words into exquisite scenes: “spider webs shivered like torn lace” and “the sea was polished glass,” and dawn’s many beauties, aglow in Blood of the Stone, include “the first pale notes of birds.’
In The Girl Who Wanted to Fly, our heroine is “breath in the newborn calf.”
Yet running beneath the poetic imagery is a great deal of anger and grief for damaged childhoods. This is a book of lost children, and the people who abuse, bully and drive them away, or who simply lack the power to save them. A yearning to flee flutters throughout, alongside a deep passion for the natural world over the urban.
Whales keen for their stranded calves, and a woman embraces her child’s gender fluidity, mountaintop echoes offer hope, and not every lost child is lost forever.
These are stories drawn on dried leaves, with hints of fairytale and fable. They are reminders that not every shifting shadow is exactly as it first appears, and that we should listen to those among us who sometimes stare into space, because they well be “the seein’ kind.”
As beautifully eerie as a collection of lucid dreams, Soul Etchings will bring you a moment’s escape in these challenging times. Take a breath, wade in, and allow Arnold’s words to fill your mind with the patter of rain falling through trees.
What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.