Last week I was out at a book event the theme of which was the short story, and by pure coincidence my first review this week is of a short story collection. How Much The Heart Can Hold describes itself as 'seven stories on love', but these aren't romantic tales of falling in love and living happily ever after. Instead they explore the different forms that love can take. The ancient Greeks drew distinctions between seven types of love - for self, for family, charitable love for all mankind, love that borders on obsession, is unrequited, or endures for ever, and, of course, sexual, erotic love - and here they're taken as the starting point for seven very different short stories, each by a different author. The paperback edition which I was given for review contains an extra story - It Was Summer by Phoebe Roy, the winning entry for the SceptreLoves short story prize.
I came to this book just after finishing an epic 900+ page fantasy novel, so at least each tale was short if not necessarily sweet. Faced with a collection from a variety of authors, I'm often tempted to seek out the familiar names and start reading there, but there's a theory that says the editor does more than check for spelling mistakes, also deciding on the order of the pieces and shapes the feel of the whole, and I think that's certainly the case here. Ending, as the original collection did, on Bernadine Evaristo's story of universal love, The Human World, brings a feeling of completeness to the work.
I did, of course, have my favourites, and, yes, they were by those favourite authors, Carys Bray and Donal Ryan. Bray's story, Codas, explores the love and bonds of family from the point of view of a single mother suddenly having to deal with her father's illness after a stroke, balancing his needs against those of her son. Ryan's Magdala, Who Slips Sometimes is a story of obsession, in which a woman clings desperately to the belief that, despite his marriage and children, her teenage sweetheart still loves her above all others.
This isn't to say that the others weren't enjoyable - they all were in their way, though some seemed hard at first to fit to their 'brief'. Of these, I particularly liked Before It Disappears by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, a tale of love that's no longer returned; Nikesh Shukla's White Wine, about learning to love oneself rather than change to fit others' expectations; and Bernadine Evaristo's The Human World, a sad, yet humorous look at what it's like to care for the whole world. Just don't go into this book expecting hearts, flowers and cuddly teddies; love is more complex than the romantic hype of Valentine's Day and this story collection reflects that.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Sceptre
Genre - short stories,