It felt great to sink my teeth into short stories after a string of sub-par novels and I was quite impressed by this one. The Doll’s Alphabet is an exquisitely dark, grotesque, and completely discomfiting magical realist short story collection. The only way I can describe this is that each story felt like waking up from an elusive, edgy, disconcerting nightmare. That doesn’t seem like I’m selling it really well, but it was that uncomfortable edginess in her stories, and the way it gets under your skin that makes it weirdly fascinating.
Grudova’s collection is wildly inventive, filled with collisions of beauty and the grotesque in language that is darkly seductive & whimsical. Her stories are like well-constructed sinkholes that suck you in and take you on an unpredictable course full of ugly twists and turns. There are dollhouses & sewing machines, antique stores & abandoned shops, babies that look like bald old men & bodily malfunctions, mermaids, & sardines, there are insects, spiders, rats, moths and the less glamorous species from the animal kingdom. All these collide to create these bizarre, distorted concoctions that seem oddly familiar, yet disturbingly different, like an amalgamation of Kafka, Angela Carter, Karen Russell and Margaret Atwood.
Some stories really stood out, and few, not so much. My favourites were Waxy, Agata’s Machine & Notes from a Spider. I’d definitely recommend this collection especially if you enjoy magical realism and if you can stomach unpleasant imagery. Overall Rating: 3.75/5
A huge thank-you to @chbooks for sending me a copy in return for an honest review. Coachhouse books are an indie press in Toronto and they publish really fascinating books (one worth mentioning here, is How the Blessed Live by Susannah M Smith).
Alternate editions of this book have been published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK and by Coffehouse Press in the US.