Oh, the joys of judging books by their covers. I bought this book for the sole reason that I really quite liked the cover, and I’d read Angel by the same author after again quite liking the cover (not the one you see if you follow the link, that one’s downright ugly), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Virago covers (the old ones, that is – the new ones tend to be horrendous and why they changed what was a perfectly lovely design to their sexy moody contemporary photography shenanigans, comme ca, is, like many things, beyond my comprehension) are wonderful things, and to be frank, even if I never read half of the Viragos I own, I wouldn’t care, because they look pretty even when they are propping things up, gathering dust and generally taking up space I don’t have. But I digress.
This blog is for reviewing books, of course, so review this book I must. The Devastating Boys is actually a collection of short stories, which I am really getting into these days, as, when one only has time to read books while on packed commuter trains/tubes, it’s very satisfying to get two whole stories read by the time you’ve made it to South Kensington via London Charing Cross. And, just to dispell any possible confusion, there are two famous Elizabeth Taylors – this one is not the same as blue eyed-National Velvet-lots of husbands and diamonds-now rather decrepit Elizabeth Taylor. Just so as you know.
Anyway, I read this while sunning myself on Lesbos, which is a ridiculously idyllic and stereotypical Greek island, and it was the perfect book to pick up and put down between the various holiday activities one does on Greek islands; namely, turning periodically while sunbathing to ensure maximum yet even tannage, eating huge amounts of icecream, and popping down to the sea for a refreshing paddle, because the stories are fairly short and you can comfortably read one in 20 minutes. The stories themselves were perfect little gems, and they traversed the whole spectrum from hilarious to charming to touching to downright shocking, which is quite a lot for one small volume to traverse by anyone’s standards. I especially enjoyed the story of ‘The Devastating Boys’, which is about an old Oxfordshire couple who have an empty nest and are in need of a little excitement in their lives. So, they decide to take two black boys from the East End in for the summer holidays, to give them an experience of country life, with hilarious and heartwarming consequences. It’s funny and touching and so well observed, and though it is only a few pages long, it was enough for the characters to really come alive off the page and leave you hungry for more. ‘The Fly Paper’ was the only story I didn’t enjoy, as, though it was equally well written as the others, it sent a nasty chill down my spine when I reached the final shocking paragraph. This is one of the best short story collections I have ever read, even better than Tea with Mr Rochester and maybe even on a par with Alice Munro and Katherine Mansfield. High praise indeed! Highly, highly, recommended. Read it now! You can buy it here.