The Shielding of Mrs Forbes by Alan Bennett
Published by Faber & Faber, 2019
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I really like the central idea being explored in this short from the Faber Stories range. Wishing to protect his seemingly naïve and prim mother from scandal, Graham marries a woman to keep his sexuality a secret. But when his lover starts blackmailing him, it becomes clear that no one is quite as oblivious – or as innocent – as they’re leading others to believe.
The tone is largely humorous and cutting, with none of the characters being particularly likeable. With everyone tangled up in different aspects of the same lie, it’s clear that Bennett is commenting on the folly of trying to keep up appearances. Still, a few too many twists towards the end tipped things into the realms of farce for me, making the narrative itself feel too contrived to be believable.
In the age-old debate of concept versus execution, I definitely preferred the former here.
Anything Resembling Love by S. Qiouyi Lu
Published by Tor Books, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The concept of this short is so striking; its magical realism elements serving as powerful allegory concerning body autonomy, sexuality, and trauma. In this world, any kind of physical contact that incites pain, stress or discomfort can cause insects to erupt from beneath your skin. Despite it being a completely normal occurrence, it often triggers shame and revulsion, with Lu commenting on the way society conditions people (particularly girls) to fear and detest their own bodies’ natural functions, and to force themselves to placate the desires of men.
I won’t say anything about the plot itself, since it’s so short, but I thought the body horror was used to explore the story’s themes with due sensitivity, being suitably distressing without tipping into gratuity.
In addition to an Asian-American protagonist, there’s also some great, normalised representation of a non-binary, ace character which I thought was handled really well, with Lu using our heroine’s relationship with her roommate to look at the importance of friendship and solidarity. Yet more reasons to check this one out!
You can read Anything Resembling Love online for free by clicking here.