“Where is My Mask of an Honest Man?” Laura Del-Rivo (Holland Park Press) – short stories

Where is |My Mask of an Honest Man Laura Del-Rivo book cover

A collection of seven short stories set in and around Notting Hill, London. The first, “Dark Angel” covers similar ground to Laura Del-Rivo’s novel “The Furnished Room” which has been filmed as “West 11”. Oily-eyed Joseph Kuhlman is in search of a furnished rented room in which to write his novel in black notebooks. He is a distinctive character. On the surface he’s a shifty, petty thief, born with a grudge and out to turn any opportunity to his advantage but lacks the competence to actually do so. He weaves stories around his past, giving himself a dangerous edge, suggesting he once murdered someone. He dresses himself up as a doctor/counsellor, but readers suspect he’s really the patient. He also appears in a couple of the other stories as a minor character.

“J Krissman in the Park” is a bitter-sweet tale of a writer contemplating rejections whilst sitting in a park full of happy families. “Sometimes he felt as if wolves were eating his mind, but he did not know whether the wolves were other people or generated by himself.” In contemplation, a family group sit on a nearby bench:

He dared not speak his thoughts aloud, ‘You are unnecessary and therefore vile. Your love is complacent.’

The virtue of the young women was that they were ordinary and loving. The power of the ordinary overwhelmed that of the wretched Krissman. The quite pretty sisters hardly noticed him; then fluently dissed him, ‘Ohmygod, how spazz was that?’

Nothing had happened except that an old man had passed a family in a park. The space between buildings was not even a park; only a public garden with trees, squirrels and benches. At the gate, Krissman turned his mind to the article which had described the other two visible universes. There would be few or no visible stars. He was too uneducated in physics and maths to expand his mind but the effort of trying to do so for several seconds expanded his soul.”

In the longest story, “Where is My Mask of an Honest Man?” an elderly novelist develops a crush on her much younger landlord who thinks he’s doing her a favour by moving her from her top floor home to a ground floor flat in a different building still owned by him. The reason for the move was because repairs were needed to the ceiling, but once she’s moved out, the ceiling is left unrepaired and a new tenant moved in. The landlord’s plan back-fires because he hasn’t yet figured out that a home isn’t just the place you rent.

Most of these stories could be summed up in plot terms as ‘nothing had happened, except’ with the emphasis on ‘except’. These stories focus on their characters and Laura Del-Rivo’s writing style. She allows the characters to narrate for themselves, using words with precision and deftness which is combined with an ear for contemporary dialogue so the stories don’t feel dated or irrelevant.

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