Anne Sauvy has produced this new collection of 16 short stories about ‘the mountains, mountain people and mountaineers’. Each tale involves the kind of twist at the end designed to wrong-foot or intrigue. They are set in the grand panorama of the French Alps and, unsurprisingly, have a distinctly French flavour. These are the bare facts of this book.
So, what is all the fuss about Anne Sauvy? Apparently she has a fiercely loyal fan base, most of whom will handbag me to a bloody pulp if she doesn’t get to me first. She is undoubtedly a fine storyteller, but her plots are lamentably predictable. Each tale plods to its obvious end with a certain amount of flair, but little guile. I’m sure this is not helped by a translation seemingly so stiff and wooden you could belay off it.
The eerie quality of ‘Solitude’ and the sad story of Stanislas Limbourg in ‘The Mont-Cervin Hotel’ certainly show Sauvy’s talent but there is something dusty and old-fashioned about it. Her style is a combination of overstated fairy tale and 1950s European lit. Although some may find this quaintly charming, I’m afraid I found it dreary.
The final paragraph of ‘The Twistleton Hut’, where two ghosts have been listening to a conversation in the hut and finish with the remark, ‘Incredible!.. Humans! Will they never learn?’ left me wincing. Is it just me?
There are times when Anne Sauvy shines. Her love and knowledge of the mountains is palpable, as in the title piece where she describes two climbers escaping the desperate state of the world, ‘Drunk on limpid light, vibrant all around them, drunk with the altitude, the clear air, the azure, they climbed on over pristine snow, as at the dawn of the world’.
Her characters are well thought out and constructed, which in the confines of a short story is not as easy task. However, these elements are not enough to make this collection sparkle. It lacks a contemporary feel and although mountains may be timeless, people change. Not everybody wants stories full of high-tech jargon and heart-stopping adventure (although… ) but at the same time do we really want tame ghost stories?
Darkness and the Azure is not a bad book. It is quirky and the front cover painting is gorgeous. However, I would say its appeal is limited… possibly to people with beards. I’ll get my coat….
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