There are writers who have an unrelenting and at times elemental relationship to storytelling; writers whose entire worlds are contained within a single sentence. Camilla Grudova’s debut collection of stories, The Doll’s Alphabet, captures this definitive way of storytelling in conjuring up an immediate, uncanny world. One that is gothic, strange, experimental – and totally realised.
Grudova’s short stories first come into their own by a set of recurring motifs – sewing needles, stockings and dolls to name a few – but her collection is also charged with its largely enigmatic themes of occultism, gluttony, possession, death and loneliness. The blurring of these devices are disquieting and utilised in hyperaware magic realism, situating her stories as a kind of contemporary gothic fairytale, taking up its place as what the author Nicola Barker describes as a natural inheritor of Angela Carter, or perhaps Lenora Carrington.
Grudova’s best Carteresque fairytales characterise women and girls persistently in the most bold and interesting ways. Here they are held in dirty secrets (Agata’s Machine, Waxy), or trapped in loveless and deranged spaces (The Gothic Society, The Sad Tale of the Sconce). They literally unstitch their bodies (Unstitch) and fleet in and out of the collection, anarchic and unpredictable. Her heroines are at a loss with society and men, but are not victimised – subverting the fairytale princess and taking over anew:
‘One afternoon, after finishing a cup of coffee in her living room, Greta discovered how to unstitch herself. Her clothes, skin and hair fell from her like the peeled rind of a fruit, and her true body stepped out.’
The rest of the collection, such as the two-line title story, becomes so riddled with mystery and intrigue that the airiness of her story-telling takes on a more unsettling, literary quality. With tight prose and razor sharp wit, Grudova transforms her worlds into something sinister and truly modern:
‘The Doll’s Alphabet has eleven letters:
A B C D I L M N O P U’
With all this in mind, perhaps the most striking feature is not the collection of stories themselves but the author behind them. Just who is Camilla Grudova?
A writer almost totally unknown, she has little or no publicity outside a couple of articles in Granta and The White Review, and a background of studies in German Art History. Grudova remains an entity, and one to be watched carefully after the bewitching revelation that is the debut of The Doll’s Alphabet.