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Review: Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, by Diana Athill


Pages: 196
Original date of publication: 1960-1972; previously published as An Unavoidable Delay
My edition: 2011 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: it’s a Persephone
How I acquired my copy: Persephone catalogue, June 2011


Midsummer Night in the Workhouse is a collection of 12 stories, 10 of which were previously published in the collection An Unavoidable Delay. Diana Athill is no stranger to the publishing industry; for decades she worked as an editor for Anddre Deutsch (she makes a cameo appearance in Q’s Legacy).

Athill herself wrote the preface to the Persephone edition, and she says that “the discovery that I could write changed my life for the better in a very profound way, so [the stories] mean a great deal to me.” Nevertheless, Athill never published any other fiction and preferred to remain in the background as an editor, although she did publish several memoirs about her career.

The 12 stories in this collection are all very different from one another but have a lot in common nonetheless. One story is a coming of age story written in the breathless excitement of a teenage girl; another is a bizarre tale about two Englishwomen in holiday in Albania. The title story is about a colony of artists in a manor house. I think these stories display Athill’s talent of telling very believable stories. This is a collection that focuses on the struggles—especially sexual—that her characters, most of them female, face. The interplay between these characters and the people they associated are part of the charm and fascination of this collection of stories.
This is Persephone no. 92.

Comments

Karen K. said…
When this first came out I requested "An Unavoidable Delay" from ILL, but I only had time to read the stories that weren't included in "Midsummer Night." I really liked them and yet I still haven't touched the Midsummer Night since then! If you can get your hands on a copy the other stories are really worth reading.

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