After the critical success of Sylvia Brownrigg's first novel, The Metaphysical Touch, her American publishers have been inspired to release a collection of her earlier stories. Ten Women Who Shook the World appeared in England in 1997 and was equally well received, though on a smaller scale. Brownrigg's spare, animated prose is beautifully suited to this shorter, less elastic form, and if readers are willing to relax their expectations for traditional plot development and setting, they will find these tales sly and exhilarating, recalling the avant-garde fictions of Rebecca Brown, Leon Rooke, and Mary Caponegro.In "Amazon," a female contractor and her thoughtful assistant casually build the Egyptian pyramids, Chartres Cathedral, and the Taj Mahal. "The pyramids themselves went up in three days," the contractor remarks, "And that was with coffee breaks, siestas, time to talk on the phone--everything. I just don't believe in this workaholic business." Among the best stories in this sparkling but uneven collection are "She Who Caught Buses," which captures the dark imagination of childhood, and "The Bird Chick," which describes the rise and fall of a theatrical genius who stages Hamlet in a city park with a native cast of waterfowl. Before her ambitions become known, she quietly rehearses her performers on the cool gray pond that has become a second home to her. "You couldn't tell at first what was taking place out there," notes the narrator, a fellow parkgoer.
But out of the corner of your eye, that eye you used to turn away from her because you'd labeled her a crazy, you did start to notice some strange behavior among the waterfowl. They seemed to swim more in formation. They held their heads higher. Whenchildren proffered stale bread crusts there was less feverish gratitude. The bird chick, in rehearsing them, had encouraged in them the beginnings of self-respect, which was bound to alter the way they dealt with everyone else in the park.Clarity and the fantastic rarely go together, and this is one of the many pleasures of Brownrigg's debut. With its deeply experienced, unnamed places and its quick observations of character, Ten Women is a sort of traveler's volume, as urgent as the jottings made in a road journal and as suggestive as the pages left blank. --Regina Marler
Used availability for Sylvia Brownrigg's Ten Women Who Shook the World
June 2000 : USA Hardback
June 1997 : UK Hardback
March 2001 : USA Paperback
March 1998 : UK Paperback