Author: Jane Gardam
Details: (c) 1983-1989 Jane Gardam; Pub Sphere Books Ltd (Abacus) 1990; ISBN 0-349-10116-7
Verdict: Showing the flag has some accomplished stories but is probably one for the hardcore fans.
Reasons for reading it: I love Jane Gardam, even though I generally don't bother with collections of short stories.
How it came into my hands: A charity shop in Willesden sucked me in when I was on the way home from visiting NZ and worried that I wasn't carrying quite enough books to last the journey home.
I don't go much for short stories in general, and I also don't think the format reflects Gardam's talents in the best light. These seem to have a theme of dealing with Englishness and the English class system, and there are several rather lovely vignettes which don't quite develop into stories. Obviously, Gardam can do social observation, this has never been in question, but social observation alone doesn't make a story, never mind a whole collection.
Dixie girls is on the long side for the format, and is extremely good as a meditation on class and ageing and is also tightly plotted. And After the strawberry tea is really spooky in a sort of Raymond Briggs way. Most of the rest, well, I really really like Jane Gardam, and there are several of those exquisitely crafted sentences which are one of the great joys of reading, as well as some very memorable images. But I wasn't particularly inspired to start reading the next story when I finished each one. This quite is a general problem with short stories for me, but it's particularly acute in this collection, I think largely because Gardam's strengths don't really lie in the direction of gripping plots at the best of times.