Louis de Bernieres’ short story collection, Labels and Other Stories was a delight from start to finish and left me the sensation of having spent time in person with an interesting and charming storyteller.
The collection began with the title story, Labels, which is told in the first person by a man who had been brought up in a time when people had actual hobbies. After trying and discarding a variety of hobbies for himself, the narrator eventually settled on collecting labels from tins of cat food but over time his hobby became an obsession. Eventually his wife left him, then he lost his job and perhaps not surprisingly, went broke. Luckily the man thought up a resourceful solution to his biggest problem, which was how to make enough money to continue to grow his cat food label collection.
Gunter Weber’s Confession returned to Greece and the characters from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin began with a hilarious story of a formerly deaf man who could hear again after a pea that had been stuck in his ear since childhood was removed and although I read this book many years ago, the ‘pea’ story still makes me laugh whenever I think of it. It was a pleasure to meet several of the characters again in this short story, which told of an event from the novel from another character’s point of view.
The Turks Are so Wonderful with Children was the story of a lovely couple who, for reasons unknown to everyone including themselves, had a child so horrible that even they could not love him.
Stupid Gringo was a funny reminder to readers not to generalise or stereotype people because of their race.
Romance on the Underground was one of my favourite stories in the collection. The narrator told his story of a romantic interlude from many years ago to his fourteen year old son in an attempt to warn him that he could expect to be perplexed by women for the rest of his life.
Mamacita’s Treasure, Our Lady of Beauty, The Complete Continent, Two Dolphins, The Man Who Sent Two Dead Fish to the President, A Night Off for Prudente de Moraes were all set in South America and were mostly set further in the past than other stories in the collection. Some of these stories used magic realism which I’m not a great fan of, although possibly because of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books I am more accepting of this style when a story is set in this part of the world. The Complete Continent, which told of a woman who had baby after baby who she and her husband named after South American countries amused me enormously.
The Deposit told the story of an English junkie who sold his beloved violin so he could buy drugs. The stories in the collection were set all over the world but this was the only story set in the UK.
Andouil and Andouillette‘s adventures made me laugh. The middle-aged couple set off on a caravan holiday when she became tired and convinced Andouil to let her sleep in the caravan while he drove. This is of course illegal because it is dangerous and not surprisingly, things went terribly wrong for this couple, as they tend to do when stupidity is involved.
While I enjoyed some stories better than others the writing in each was excellent and I appreciated the humour and delighted in the immediate connection I felt with each of the characters. It has been some time since I’ve read a novel by Louis de Bernieres but I intend to rectify that soon.