Property: A Collection

Lionel Shriver

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A collection of short stories and novellas by Lionel Shriver (she of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame), all with the common theme of ownership, Property is a mixed bag. Stories with deep characterisation and compelling content are peppered with others that don’t really make the grade, and one which I found so poor that it was a chore to finish.

Shriver’s characters are flawed and imperfect people who, if real, you wouldn’t like in the slightest. Her greatest skill as an author is in making you care about these characters despite this, and on the whole, she manages just that.

The novellas mark the beginning and end of the book. The first of these, The Standing Chandelier, is an excellent tale of enduring friendship and the consequences of introducing a third party into the mix. The property in question is ostensibly the chandelier of the title, but the story is really concerned with the emotional ownership of friends and lovers.

A few of the short stories stood out for me. The Self-Seeding Sycamore is a short but sweet tale of rediscovery of self, Exchange Rates warns of the consequences of holding a grudge, while Domestic Terrorism explores the issue of adult children not wanting to or being able to afford to fly the parental nest.

Unfortunately, The Subletter – the novella that caps off the collection – is (for me, at least) by far the worst story in the book. Even with deliberately unlikable characters, a reader needs somebody to attach to, even if it’s just a case that one person is less awful than the other. I must admit, if I hadn’t been reading the book for review, I would have skipped this after reading the first five or ten pages. I very rarely don’t finish a book or story, so my inclination to give up goes to show how poor The Subletter was. It was a shame that this was the last in the book, as my dislike of it has coloured my perception of the collection overall.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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